How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

The first of two articles about one US student's summer spent spreading Linux to Nicaraguans.

Nicaragua.

Not exactly the country most people think to look when they want to get a Linux job. This is the reason that I was so confused when I saw the job posting. I was on my way to class, like any other day, when I saw a piece of paper taped to the wall. It wasn't by a bulletin board or anything, just randomly taped to the wall. After reading over it, I realized that I fit the description of who the company was looking for almost perfectly. I had been through a lot of Spanish training, spent a good long while using Linux--I'd even been using SuSE for two years, the distribution with which the company is doing everything at the moment.

I promptly e-mailed the listed address, and after about a week's worth of conversation, it was agreed that I would be a good fit for the job. So, here I am, in Estelí, Nicaragua. Why would Estelí need a Linux geek? Simple. Many people use computers down here. Whether it's in their offices, or when they go to an internet café, there are quite a few computer users.

So, say you're the owner of an internet café in Estelí. When it comes to setting up the computers, you have three real choices:

  • Buy Windows for every machine.

  • Steal Windows for every machine.

  • Use a free alternative.

The first alternative is not attractive. Legal versions of Windows don't cost any less down here than they do in the states. That means you'd end up spending about 10 years worth of wages simply to buy the software for your machines. The second alternative isn't attractive either, as Microsoft inspectors currently are going around to internet cafés in Costa Rica, demanding to see the license stickers. This is bound to happen soon in Nicaragua as well. So, what are you left with? An even bigger thing to consider is this: what if you didn't have to buy powerful machines but instead could use diskless clients to outfit your environment?

The thin client aspect also allows us to offer low cost computing systems to rural schools, which then promotes knowledge and growth in even the poorest communities. This goal cannot be accomplished with Windows, even with Citrix and the like. By using Linux, we don't have to buy any specific hardware. In fact, simply by using donated machines and Linux, we can have a fully functional computer setup.

Clearly, in a country where the minimum wage is around two dollars a day, this last alternative is the winner. So, my job this summer is to help the people down here learn the more complicated parts of Linux, including how to configure thin clients, so they can go spread the good word and help Nicaraguans save money when they're setting up computers for almost anyone.

An interesting thing that I've learned during this operation thus far is most businesses and individuals aren't yet tied into any specific application package. In the US, many people seem to say, "I can't get MS Office for free? I don't want it." Down here, they tend to ask, "How do I word process? How do I print things?" This means they're much more willing to switch to Linux, as long as it allows them to do what they need to do. Most of the computer usage down here consists of word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, all of which Linux does wonderfully.

Another interesting thing about all of this is I've noticed that most of the people in Nicaragua have never heard of Linux--not at all. Most people in the US at least can say Linux sounds familiar. This lack of familiarity with Linux tends to help our cause, it seems, because the people don't already have an opinion in their heads. So I get to describe it, and then they make the decision for themselves. There isn't this uphill battle of, "But I heard that...".

Another battle one usually has to fight with Americans is what I call the "Wait, it doesn't cost anything? It can't be as good then." struggle. Here, people seem to understand that maybe something can works equally as well as the next thing, if not better, even if it's free. Really, the only battle we have to fight in Nicaragua is getting the word out. And that's my job.

Editor's Note: In Part II of this article, Kevin explains how he set up diskless clients to run SuSE 9.0.

______________________

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URGENT!!!

Anonymous's picture

Kevin!

How can I contact you? Give me your e-mail adress, please!! Mine is katrin196@hotmail.com
I don't know why it doesn't work, maybe, you just haven't had the time to answer me yet, but I don't think so. Maybe I have the wrong adress. I hope you'll read this!
Lots of love, Katrin

Next Trip to SA

Peter Tandrer's picture

Kevin, do you know, when you do the next trip?

Re:Next Trip to SA

Kevin T.'s picture

Next trip to where ???

Re:Next Trip to SA

Peter Tandrer's picture

Oh - next trip to Nicaragua, of course 8-)))

Email-Address

Jack Marder's picture

Hi Katrin. You should just click on his name at the top of this article and then you get the contact-information. Bye Jack

re:Email-Address

Katrin S.'s picture

I clicked on the address at the top, but I cannot find an email-address or other contact-information.

re:Email-Address

Jack Marder's picture

Oh, what a pity. That is really bad. Maybe you just write to the editors, that they can help you with this.

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Hello, this is a great encouraging story! We at digitalright.org have the same projects, trying to encourage and support non profit institutions (associations, schools for starting) and (later on) small business (cyber cafe, etc...) to use Software Libre (SL). We traveled last month to Guatemala hoping to team up with another organization that was providing the hardware but we missed the time. So, for the next months we are working to make sure of succed in a similar project next year. So far we are focusing more on Guatemala since we have few contacts there, but we should coordinate anyway with similar organizations and join the resource in a common strategy for a common goal! So, if anybody is interested in coordinate volunteer work for next summer in Guatemala and/or Nicaragua please contact me at giova@digitalright.org and/or visit our web site.

Thanks

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

I find this great. In South africa there is a great need for spreading the word but still a resistance to not having Microsoft Office

Reiner Stucky

Great Story

Anonymous's picture

Hey ...

THIS was a great article 8-)))))

Keep on the good work and when you see some teen girls greet them from me.

Marcus

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Just give them Open Office.
Its free and the basic funktions same as MS-Office.

Also dokuments made in OO are usable in MS-Office and vice versa.

I have MS at the office and Linux at home and I have had no problems interchanging files if I have done some work at home.

Actually there is no reason why you could not use both.
My home computer is a double boot, and I have MS for games and linux for safer email,safer web browsing and for free Office software !

Santtu

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

this was not the first linux ciber cafe in nicaragua.

about year and a half or maybe two there was a linux powered ciber cafe called HUEMBES.com... was located at ROberto Huembes Market, in managua, the capital.

where were dell machines running mandrake linux as well. they also gave class for the less afortunate people. they learned the beauties about open source and the ease of use.

but for bad management. they fired the linux geeks. and hired a lame geek wannabe that only knew windows. and well now the internet cafe still runs windows. and it seems it will run it always.

too bad for open source. but as noel said, nvagas (i was member of NICALUG also) people resist to change. you would have to use the IE icon on mozilla for them to know that its a internet browser.

screw ms... gimme linux.

riper81 aka salvador aguilar

info about Esteli

Nestor's picture

I am a computer science student in North Dakota State University, I happend to be born in Esteli, Nic. Ubuntu is my personal preference. Right now, I am working in Open source proyect with some students from Managua Nicaragua and other countries.
I want to congratulate you for your help in Esteli I now how is the situation in the country, I do undertand about (" if it is free probably doesn't wok ") I am trying to get some live CDs and Installation CD ( Debian and Ubuntu/Kubuntu ) to UNAN-managua.
If you want we can keep you inform about our group and the trip to nicaragua. Nestor.benavidez@ndsu.edu

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Hi !

Allthough I live in Finland , I have close family ties to Nicaragua and I have often thought Linux use would be a great solution to improve IT usage in the country.

Most nicaraguans do not use computers yet, but where they are used they sure do know how to get the most out their systems. Software piracy is a problem there, but as mentioned in the article Linux makes this problem history.

Keep up the good work!

Next time in Esteli I

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Hi Kevin,

My name is Noel Vargas, I live in Managua and work for TV Channel 2. I`ve been using Linux for 4 years and there was an initiative by Milton Amador to create the Nicaraguan Linux User Group (NICALUG).

I do think that Linux is a great solution for our country, but people resist change. When it`s something new for them, there`s no problem, but when they`re used to Windows... it`s another story.

Right now, my PC runs Mandrake 10, I`m building a load balancing firewall for us, and I`d really like to hear from you.

My email address is nvargas@canal2.com.ni

More info on the project

Anonymous's picture

You can find the background information about how and why Kevin is here and what other opportunities exist in my Linux Gazette article.

Phil Hughes

why

Anonymous's picture

isnt there more information on what is going on with nicaragau?

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Hi Kevin,

What a great story! I was born in Nicaragua. My family is from Managua, the capital city. I've lived most of my life in Ontario, Canada. I currently live in Edmonton, Alberta Canada where I am a grad student at the U of A.

I could not agree more on your comments on Nicaraguans view towards Linux. As long as their computer system can get the job done it doesn't matter whether it is a Windoze or Linux machine. I had similar experiences with my family in December 2003 when I visited them for Christmas. Surprisingly, they were having problems with their XP system, and were having to pay someone for tech support. So I decided to take a copy of SuSE 9.0 and install it on their system. They loved it and have been using it ever since. They are able to get all their work done, mostly word processing, internet, email, etc.

Keep up the good work! Looking forward to the 2nd part of the story.

Cesar

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Well, it's not so much a continuation of the story, but the "how to configure LTSP". It's interesting nevertheless.

- Kevin

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Kevin, and like then, in Esteli is first cybercafe totally Linux in Nicaragua, pon a photo! Before single I know cybercafe where they use Freesco like gateway and proxy (Neflyte49 from Nicaragua)

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Kevin,

Good job, I am from Esteli, I was down there about 3 monghts ago, did not visit any cyber cafe, but I would like to know where is the cyber cafe located? I am planing to come back in December, and I'd like to visit this cyber cafe that you are talking about.

Alex

Anonymous's picture

Actually, there is no real cybercafe...yet. I'm training Nicaraguans to be able to set up cybercafes, businesses, homes, schools, etc. Currently we have a lab of computers in a local school that completely run linux, and several LTSP thin clients.

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Kevin:

I live in El Salvador (next door to Nicaragua). At work, I run a network of about 50 Linux servers and workstations, with stuff ranging from OpenOffice to CIPE. Linux is also a tough sell here, with most everyone in educational institutions and corporations zombified by M$.

I would like to hear from you, and maybe learn from your experience what more could be done to spread Linux around in El Salvador. Drop me a line at oscar valdez-bicard.com.sv

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Kevin,

Linux was a hit in Todos Santos, Guatemala last year as well. If you know of anyone who enjoys working with it and who wants to visit TS, send them to the village's internet cafe - Rosendo could use the assistance!

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Hola,
too bad I haven't found your message earlier, I just came back from Guatemala today and one of my interest was to start some Linux projects! I was mostly in Xela where I got a couple of good connections. I'm still looking for more opportunities of doing some (remote) work there. If you know people that I should get in touch with can you forward their email to me? as well, if you are still "working" in the field, I would like to talk more with you. My email is giova@digitalright.org (I'm the founder of that NGO).

Thanks,

Gio

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

There is actually many people from Mexico who might help you. For example people from USOLI (Chiapas Linux Group) is re-starting activities and they want to engage in projects.

Belize Linux group is famous for their LTSP project and the Cerros Model. You can email Ian to schedule a LTSP workshop for you guys. They are up in Corozal.

Re: How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

Kevin, did you do this with a group or organization or something?
How did you get hooked up with the people in Nicaragua.
Thanks.

LJ Sponsored Kevin

Anonymous's picture

This should have been in the article. Linux Journal sponsored Kevin's work here in Esteli. The work is for Cooperative Christine King whose primary focus is education. Much of the support for the coop comes from the Superemos Foundation here.

Since I moved here we have got a 8-seat Linux classroom set up and have converted all the office machines to Linux. Adding Kevin for the summer has given me the time to do my day job as Publisher of Linux Journal.

Phil Hughes

Internet Service to San Juan de Limay, Nicaragua

Anonymous's picture

I work with an organization that is trying to bring Internet service to a small village (San Juan de Limay) in the north of Nicaragua. We are trying to do this in a way that is sufficiently cost-effective so that the village can afford it (with some support from our organization). Any help you can give me would be most appreciated.

Tom Hyatt
Vice President for Technology
Maryland Institute College of Art

Member of
Casa Baltimore Limay
www.casabaltimorelimay.org

Re: LJ Sponsored Kevin

meonkeys's picture

I'm interested!

Where do I sign up?

-Adam Monsen

Re: LJ Sponsored Kevin

Anonymous's picture

Hello Adam,
I am working with a non profit organization in Tanzania-East Africa that is looking for volunteers to introduce Linux in the region.
For more info please contact me at:joseph@icarusnetworks.com
Thank you.

Re: LJ Sponsored Kevin

Anonymous's picture

Okay there you have.

I amn Feruzi, Emanuel K from Tanzania. I am planning to introduce it in Tanzania. But its still an idea in my head. I am currently looking for people to help. Please email me and we see how we can assist each other.
feruzi@tuks.co.za

LJ Sponsored Kevin

Anonymous's picture

all the best man..good try..where have u reach so far?

Re: LJ Sponsored Kevin

Anonymous's picture

I don't suppose you could use any more people?
(I don't need to be sponsored)

Re: Linux Volunteers wanted...

Anonymous's picture

Hello,
I am working with a non profit in Tanzania-East Africa and are looking for volunteers to help with the introduction of linux in the region.
For more information,please contact me at:joseph@icarusnetworks.com
Thank you.

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