Linux in the Tropics
As in the rest of the world, Linux is doing quite well in Brazil, thank you. The rapid increase in the number of users is stimulated by the availability of a Red Hat-based Brazilian distribution (http://www.conectiva.com.br/) with translated documentation, internationalized programs and an installation manual in Portuguese.
There are several Linux-related mailing lists, the largest of which (http://linux-br.conectiva.com.br/) has, as of May '99, more than 2000 subscribers. Linux is receiving extensive coverage in the Brazilian media, from technical publications to mainstream newspapers and business-oriented magazines.
Since Linux users tend to wander in herds, many Linux Users Groups (LUGs) can be found throughout the country. From time to time, there's discussion about a national LUG, a difficult task on which no concrete actions have been taken so far. Or hadn't until April 24th, when the first official São Paulo Linux User's Association (LinuxSP) meeting took place. We hope it was the first step toward a national association.
LinuxSP is the first Linux users association in Brazil. Its home is São Paulo, Brazil's biggest city.
In Brazil, creating an association requires much paperwork and usually the payment of some fees. LUGs, therefore, are “informal” in the sense that they are not registered anywhere. With all the trouble it takes to register an association, why did we bother?
Certain advantages of an association appealed to us. To begin with, it sounds respectable. With Linux rapidly taking over the business world, companies want a name they can rely on. Reporters want a phone number to call (or an e-mail address to contact) when they need to write about Linux. In short, we intend to be a reference for Linux-related subjects in São Paulo and in Brazil. As an association, we can also legally receive donations and register domains (such as linuxsp.org.br), which can be done only by registered “entities” (associations, corporations, etc.).
Apart from that, LinuxSP is basically a LUG; we'll promote installfests, lectures, Linux courses, etc. Above all, we want to put Linux users in contact with each other. It is not our intention to “rule the Brazilian Linux universe”. We'll support the LUGs as much as we can with the infrastructure we've built—not replace them.
The original idea for LinuxSP started in late '97, with an unsuccessful meeting of Linux users in São Paulo. To put it simply, four people showed up. We formed a small LUG of our own and started meeting regularly. In '98, we decided to try again, this time with much more success (over 100 people came). Our next “enterprise”, an installfest, succeeded in bringing many people and failed in every other respect, except we learned a hard lesson about organization.
Finally, after another meeting, we gathered a group of people interested in leading the creation of a Linux users association. After much discussion on all aspects of having an association, it was finally legally created. As a landmark, we called a meeting to be LinuxSP's first official one. We estimated around 500 people had passed through during the day. When we counted our guest book, more than 850 had been present! That showed us LinuxSP had come just in time. As far as we know, it was the biggest Linux event in Brazil up to that time.
The association is based on work groups. Every member of the association can join one or more groups, each of which focuses on a certain area, such as events, development, documentation, etc. Access to work groups is not limited to members; anyone who wishes can join the groups. LinuxSP was created for the Linux community, not just its members.
LinuxSP was very well received in São Paulo and elsewhere in Brazil. Many people signed up for membership at the first meeting, and e-mails just keep coming. If you're planning on starting something similar, have everything ready for twice as many people as you expect to show up. We were surprised by the response to LinuxSP, and that caused a bit of delay in some changes we needed to make in order to accommodate all the people who wanted to join us.
The next step now is actually getting things done. The work groups are starting to get organized and we hope to have the association walking on its own feet (as opposed to having the 12 founding members organizing everything) very soon. The Brazilian Linux community has accepted us.
For more information, visit http://www.linuxsp.org.br/ in Portuguese; if there's demand, we will have the site translated.
Rodrigo Bernardo Pimentel is a Physics student at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and the president of LinuxSP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.