EOF - gnuLinEx: Foundation for an Information Society

Thanks to an operating system that empowers students to develop skills, and an ambitious public access plan, the Internet isn't leaving the poorest region in Spain behind.

People who visit Extremadura are nicely surprised at the rich history of the place, the kindness of the people and the good cuisine. Now we can add a new characteristic to the qualities of the region: it has the largest Free Software implementation in the world.

Extremadura is one of 17 autonomous communities in Spain. Each one of these communities is made of one or more provinces and has considerable independence. They are entitled to rule and decide independently from the central government on several home affairs, including their educational systems.

Extremadura also is the poorest region in Spain and the fifth poorest region in the European Union. In its recent history, we have seen how diverse factors have increased the economic and social breach between the region and the rest of Europe. In 1998 an alert arose—the Internet was going to increase the gap.

For that reason, a unique project was started. A regional network called Intranet Extremadura was created, and it currently connects more than 1,400 dispersed points including regional administrative centers, schools, hospitals and centers for public access.

But that is not everything. Since 2002, Extremadura has the largest number of computers per student in Europe, with an average of one computer for every two students. The number goes up to 68,000 computers serving more than 120,000 students in high schools.

All these computers make up a network running the favorite operating system of the readers of this magazine, GNU/Linux. The localized version is called gnuLinEx, formerly LinEx.

From its beginning, the distribution has been based on Debian GNU/Linux, with the effort focused on the adaptation of the operating system, translation of educational applications and the simplification of the installation process.

Last August, the 2004 version of LinEx appeared. The Debian port of Anaconda made by Progeny is used for the installation. Any GNU/Linux user that previously had installed Red Hat or Fedora before already should be used to it.

We offer either a Gnome 2.6 desktop or XFCE4 for low-end computers. The kernel version is 2.6.7 with support for diverse devices found in Spain and patched with supermount to allow easy access to removable devices from the desktop.

From the educational applications available in gnuLinEx, the most impressive one is Squeak. Squeak is a powerful multimedia and educational environment—an implementation of Smalltalk-80, whose image for the Spanish-speaking world is contributed to actively by the government of Extremadura itself.

The new features of gnuLinEx are not only for the end user. This distribution is one of the first to use component technology for the building of the distribution. This technology, part of the Componentized Linux (CL) Project, allows us to think of a GNU/Linux distribution as a set of interchangeable parts or, in terms of CL, components.

This way, a distro builders can add support for MySQL simply by adding the respective component, or change the GNOME 2.6 component with a KDE 3.2 component if they prefer.

The base component of CL, also included in gnuLinEx, is called LSB 2.0. It contains all the necessary software to comply with specification 2.0 of the Linux Standard Base (LSB).

But the component model did not only help in the building of gnuLinEx; it keeps helping in the building of derived works as well, such as LinEx Company and LinEx Gamer. The first one is oriented to the business world, and the second one is for all of us who enjoy using the computer for more than work.

Guadalinex is the localized version of Debian GNU/Linux used by the autonomous community of Andalusia, Spain. The people of Andalusia and Extremadura reached an agreement to unite their efforts in the creation of their respective operating systems for the 2005 version, with a considerable common base. Dividing efforts in the maintenance of their own components, both teams will be able to concentrate on other subjects such as accessibility, usability and hardware support.

If you are a Spanish-speaking GNU/Linux enthusiast and want a complete Debian system with graphical installation, or if you are interested in the use of computers in education, you should take a look at gnuLinEx 2004.

Mérida is the capital of Extremadura. Two thousand years ago, it was the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania and one of the most important cities in the Roman empire in Emperor Augustus' time. Currently, it is starting to be considered the capital of the Free Software empire, with the largest implementation worldwide. You are invited to join.

Resources for this article: www.linuxjournal.com/article/7819.

Dario Rapisardi left Argentina following the gnuLinEx dream and the good ham to settle down in Spain. He currently is a gnuLinEx developer and can be contacted at dario@rapisardi.org.

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