The geographical features of Extremadura make it a predominantly peripheral region. Located in the far south-west of the countries of the EU, in the west of Spain, it borders with Portugal and is the centre of the triangle formed by Madrid, Seville and Lisbon.
Extremadura spans 41,634 km2 and has a population of 1,073,904 inhabitants (663,142 in the Badajoz province and 410,762 in the Cáceres province). The population is very disperse, with a density of 25.78 inhabitants per km2. Extremadura accounts for 8.3% of Spain's total surface area while its population makes up 2.6% of the country's total.
Extremadura is split into 383 population nuclei and 57% of its population live in towns with less than 10,000 inhabitants. The main centres are: Mérida, the administrative capital, with a population of roughly 52,110 inhabitants; Badajoz, with 138,415 inhabitants, and Cáceres, with 87,088 inhabitants. Between the 1950s and 1980s, Extremadura witnessed the migration of its population to the north of Spain, the legacy of which is still visible today: between 1960 and 1975, the region's population dropped by 22%, while that of Spain as a whole increased by 18%. In recent years, Extremadura has observed an upturn in this trend, actually registering a positive migratory balance.
In financial terms, Extremadura is one of the least developed regions of the European Union (Objective 1). The region's income per capita is the equivalent of 54% of the average income of the European Union and the employment rate is 42%.
The economy of Extremadura has evolved favourably over recent years and was Spain's Autonomous Community with the greatest relative EU convergence in 1985-1999. Extremadura has used the EU cohesion funds to set up diverse projects in the fields of education, society and business. These projects, designed to introduce the region to the revolution in new technologies and knowledge, are fostering its development on the basis of freedom and equality and raising it to a level where it can adapt to the changes ushered in by the revolution of knowledge.
Extremadura has been developing a strategy for the transition towards a knowledge-based economy since 1997. The strategic project is aimed at integrating the region into the revolution in information and communication technologies and has been the priority of the current regional government's political action.
In 1998, on the occasion of the debate on the region's status, the President of the Junta (or regional government) of Extremadura issued a challenge for developing a strategy that would allow the region to reach the level of development of its wealthier neighbours by focusing on information and communication technologies and the implementation of an information society strategy. The idea was thus to instigate political and technological action to position the region at the starting line for this new revolution, in contrast to what had historically been the case in the region, when it had either lagged behind or simply not formed part of the earlier revolutions of western modernity.
One year later in 1999, the global information society project was launched under the slogan Inventors of our destiny in the new era, set to inaugurate a whole series of actions relating to the information society. This project introduced a first generation of actions, which included: the spread of the Internet, the development of e-government, e-learning, support to SMEs in practices relating to the new economy and incorporation into the information society, and the support and integration of the most disadvantaged areas of the region and socially disadvantaged groups.
What was once a goal is now a reality in a continuous process of change and improvement, in a region that is moving towards an open, plural and egalitarian society of knowledge. In recent years, these early information society actions have evolved to shape a regional cross-sector policy in the field that embraces business, education, citizenship and government, acting equally in all sectors while adapting to their specific needs. With a marked Community focus that takes into account European trends in this field, it has positioned itself at the fore of Europe's networked regions.
Extremadura's strategic project for access to the information society was based from the outset on the fundamental principles of connectivity and technological literacy, in an attempt to improve quality of life for the people of Extremadura through equality and freedom.
Hence, the actions carried out in the region both then and now have equipped it with a powerful communications infrastructure, a regional intranet that can connect over 1,400 points in the 383 towns of the Autonomous Community by broadband; in addition, events have taken place and initiatives and programmes launched with both educational and socio-economic goals.
From the very start, it was clear that the most important pillar of the entire process would be education and that information and communication technologies could make a decisive contribution to improving teaching quality. This led to the design and introduction of the RTE ( Red Tecnológica Educativa, Technological Learning Network) and the design of the PAT ( Plan de Alfabetización Tecnológica or Technological Literacy Plan), which had to meet the needs of population sectors that had arrived late to the new technological revolution. Lastly, to be certain of covering all areas of society, the region launched Vivernet, a business incubator for companies of the new digital era, and set up the CFNI ( Centro de Fomento de Nuevas Iniciativas or Centre for the Promotion of New Initiatives), which would study and guide the region's information society strategy in line with the changing circumstances of each moment.
The cross-cutting project in this entire process is gnuLinEx ( free software ), which was launched as a response to the need to prevent success of the entire strategy from depending on external factors which, like proprietary software, elude any form of government regulation.
gnuLinEx was designed first and foremost to guarantee the connectivity of the education community, followed by that of the regional government and private business sectors, by offering an alternative to the current market.
The information and knowledge society has to be constructed as a group project, so the use of tools that were open and accessible to everybody was not merely a happy coincidence.
Example 1.1. Transfer of competence
The competence for the information society, telecommunications and networks and research previously exercised by the Regional Department for Education, Science and Technology was transferred to the Regional Department for Infrastructures and Technological Development by Decree 2/2005 of 11 January (published in the Official Gazette of Extremadura on 18 January 2005).
The Junta of Extremadura, through its Regional Department for Education, Science and Technology (the department charged with guiding, coordinating and evaluating the Autonomous Community's actions in the information society), considered that the best way of encouraging freedom and equality among its citizens was through technological innovation, by using and putting within everybody's reach what is not owned by anybody, with particular reference to the knowledge accumulated over time by humanity.
The aim of the global information society project was to encourage citizens to use ICTs by taking advantage of their possibilities at all levels but particularly in education and business creation, which would improve quality of life for the people of Extremadura.
Consolidation of the diverse educational actions and support to the creation of new technology businesses or the fostering of an ambitious technological literacy plan led the regional government to a point where its successful maintenance depended on an external element: the computer programs and applications used. And this set the context for the creation of gnuLinEx: the need for free software programs to complete this task, which had to be fully controllable and this would only be possible with the use of free software programs.
gnuLinEx is a GNU/Linux distribution geared towards end users of computer equipment whose needs are basically office automation and communication tools (e-mail and web browsing). It does not require extensive IT knowledge since GNU/Linux environments have now obtained excellent levels of quality and user friendliness.
gnuLinEx is based on GNU/Debian, the most secure and robust GNU/Linux distribution available, the design of which facilitates the creation of other distributions to make the most of its advantages (integration of its packages, excellent variety and quantity of software, stability, speed, security, etc.) and eliminate its disadvantages (installation and setup). gnuLinEx modifies a series of these features to adapt the distribution to the needs of the Junta of Extremadura.
It is easier to upgrade gnuLinEx than other systems because a simple command can install the software and update the entire system. Diverse packages can be installed from a range of sources: gnuLinEx portal, CD-ROMs, floppy disks, remote ftp and Internet http sites, etc.
Be legal, LinEx copy: the GNU-GPL licence
gnuLinEx uses the GNU-GPL licence (GNU public licence) held by the Free Software Foundation; this makes the source code of a program available for modification by any user; in turn, this user must then make the new sources available to all other users. The GPL licence applies to all GNU programs (among others) and hence, to all programs in the gnuLinEx distribution, which guarantees users the freedom to distribute, copy and/or modify the software.
gnuLinEx is a unique experience in software distribution and use, an action that came about as a result of the regional government's commitment to its launch and development. For the first time, a government body promoted the development and installation of software tailored to the needs of the end user, pinpointing the needs of the education community in its initial approach.
Analysis of the available software for computers installed in the education centres revealed that the aim of providing one computer for every two students would be impossible without investment from the national government, as the regional budget would be unable to cover the costs. Moreover, as future upgrades could not be guaranteed, the initial effort would be cancelled out.
gnuLinEx did not therefore come about by casual coincidence or spontaneous generation. In fact, since its launch on 17 April 2002, when the first version (LinEx v. 2.0) was presented, it has covered a dual aim:
The educational aim of contributing to the development of the Technological Learning Network with a ratio of one computer for every two students in every classroom in schools.
The socio-economic aim of spreading free software throughout Extremadura by means of the PAT (Technological Literacy Plan), SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and the regional government itself.
Extremadura's strategy of access to the information society has given rise to a series of key projects allowing it to meet the aims of connectivity and technological literacy across the population, originally proposed to improve quality of life for citizens without geographical or socio-economic restrictions.
What was, four years ago, a statement of intent and future commitment is now a reality that has materialised into a series of complementary projects with a common reference: participation in the promotion, spread and use of gnuLinEx in the development of its activities.
With the deregulation of the telecommunications market in Europe, Extremadura found itself in a situation of risk because it was very unprofitable for telecommunications companies to extend broadband infrastructures to the small towns where much of the region's population live.
However, with the launch of the global information society project, Extremadura set up numerous cultural, social, educational, economic and administrative processes that could contribute to the progress of the region and its citizens, and which created the need for an advanced telecommunications network. The main aims of this were:
To ensure the accessibility of all citizens to infrastructures and information society services.
To promote the technological literacy of both the rural and urban population.
Firstly, the region ensured that all schools had broadband as this would ensure that it reached all Extremaduran towns (even the smallest ones have their own school). If this had not been the case and we had been entirely dependent on market interests, we would have to have waited a very long time for the infrastructure to reach these towns – indeed, it may never have arrived.
Secondly, given that the advantages of the intranet extended beyond institutions forming part of the regional government, an attempt was made to ensure that domestic users, business men and woman and other organisations could benefit from the infrastructures created, with these services being provided by the company awarded the network contract.
As a direct result of the established aims and arising needs, the Junta of Extremadura held a call for tenders for the installation of a corporate network of advanced telecommunications services (Ruling of 24 January 2000), which was completed in December of that year (Ruling of 27 December 2000, when Retevisión I, S. A., was awarded the contract for the advanced telecommunications network service of the Junta of Extremadura, voice/data service, as published in the Official Gazette of Extremadura on 9 January 2001).
The successful bidder began to implement the network in 2001, which will include the following connection infrastructures:
2 Mgb/sec. data access for the 1,478 regional government buildings, spread across the 383 towns in the Autonomous Community of Extremadura, with the possibility of increasing the size of the infrastructure and equipment for greater bandwidth at points considered necessary by the regional government.
Internet access for a high number of simultaneous users.
Development of a numeration plan and implementation of the switchboards required for voice/data traffic consumption in government buildings, including schools and healthcare centres in the region.
All these features unify the telecommunications tariffs and services across the regional government, cutting costs and improving the services adapted to the latest technologies. Extremadura's intranet was the first in Europe to boast these attributes.
The intranet data service of Extremadura is supported by state-of-the-art equipment for connection of the existing local area networks and the possibility of supporting virtual networks between the various buildings or bodies so that independent security policies can be established for each network.
The voice service is supported by cutting-edge digital switchboards allowing digital connection between different points within the Extremadura intranet. The design of its scope and extension is open, so new organisations and bodies associated with the Junta of Extremadura can be incorporated as needs require.
A fully equipped management system is used for these services, which provides all the necessary information on the status of the network, allowing its real time management and configuration.
The RTE (Technological Learning Network of Extremadura), regulated by Decree 177/2001 of 20 November (as published in the Official Gazette of Extremadura of 27 November 2001), represents the integration of the information and knowledge society into the education system of Extremadura by promoting improvements in teaching quality, which affects both the teaching/learning methodology and the training of teaching staff and management of schools themselves.
The basic aims of the RTE are:
to guarantee connectivity between all educational establishments (through the regional intranet);
to equip secondary schools with one computer for every two students (adapting the architecture of the old schools and creating new ones);
to facilitate access to free, quality software and applications for use in the classroom (gnuLinEx); and
to train and advise teaching staff in computer tools and applications and to encourage teachers to create quality content (syllabus materials that can be used in class and shared with the rest of the teaching community through the website).
From the outset, development of the RTE (which affects approximately 580 schools) has been regarded as a strategy for the extension of public information society services because it guarantees a minimum of interconnectivity (2 Mb) in all Extremaduran towns.
The RTE is being developed on four different levels:
Communications and IT equipment infrastructure: classrooms adapted to allow two students to share a single computer in secondary schools and five children per computer at pre-school and primary school ages, and implementation of the regional intranet, which connects all of the region's schools by broadband.
Creation of content and methodological experimentation: allows progress to be made in the educational possibilities of ICTs, fostering the creation of inter-school task forces to encourage the development of joint projects.
Teacher training: essential for optimising both the IT equipment in classrooms (tools and applications) and the services developed alongside the latter (web space, e-mail, etc.); training can be on-site or web-based.
Digital tools: exclusive use of free software through adaptation to gnuLinEx and development of a range of programs to meet the specific needs of the education community (students, teachers and parents). These programs are constantly changing in line with the needs that arise, as determined by the education community.
Communications and equipment infrastructure
Development of the regional intranet. The RTE is supported by the intranet of Extremadura, which provides all of the necessary tools for network access from all computers for education.
The intranet guarantees access by all educational establishments in the region to the Internet (2 MB/s). This connectivity also promotes the development of tasks and projects between diverse centres, encouraging them to produce and share educational materials, bridging distances.
The Extremaduran intranet connects 1,478 buildings of the regional government, including all non-university educational establishments.
Equipment of the centres. Each educational establishment has its own server that can manage over 500 computers in each centre, and all classrooms have one computer for every two students in secondary schools and one for every five primary and pre-school pupils. The teacher also has a computer and printer. In total, the classroom computer equipment amounts to 66,289 computers.
This makes Extremadura an international reference for the incorporation of ICTs into the classroom, supported by recent data published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) from September 2003, which place Extremadura at the fore of Europe in the ratio of students to computers.
In Extremadura, the ratio of students to computers is 2.25 students for every computer, while the EU average is one for every 11 students. Spain brings up the rear in the European Union with a ratio of 15 students per computer, while the top places are held by Denmark with 3 students per computer, Sweden with 4, Norway with 4 and Finland with 5.
Services optimising the Technological Learning Network.
All educational establishments have 100 MB of web space to host their sites and 15,000 e-mail accounts have been set up for teachers.
The software installed on the computers is free software (gnuLinEx) and incorporates application packages developed specifically for teaching: gnuLinEx-Edu Primaria (letter arranging, handwriting tutor, etc.); gnuLinEx-Edu Secundaria (calculation of percentages, verb conjugation, periodic table, etc.) and gnuLinEx-Edu FP (technical vector drawing, printed circuit board designer, accounting package adapted to Spain's General Accounting Plan, billing and point-of-sale package, etc).
Virtual Network Computing program, which establishes a communication protocol between a network of computers allowing one computer to control the monitor, keyboard and mouse of another computer. This means that an image of the teacher's display can be sent to the screens of either all students or a selected group, and vice versa, which allows the teacher to display the screens of all of the computers in the classroom on his or her own monitor.
Remote control for switching equipment on and off, meaning that students and teachers do not need advanced IT knowledge.
IT administrator. Every secondary school has an IT technician to maintain the school's server and provide technical support to teaching staff.
Creation and maintenance of the RTE site, which includes news, competitions, links to teaching resources (grouped by level and area of knowledge), and syllabus materials produced by teachers in Extremadura.
Content generation and methodological experimentation. The generation of contents is a priority and constitutes a significant element in the operation of the RTE, since the development of new syllabus materials and classroom resources form the basis of the support given to teaching staff in scheduling their subject for the academic year. As a result, a team of teachers is being created, distributed by level and area, and with a series of common parameters and educational principles, who will be advised and supported by IT technicians.
To aid in the generation of educational content, gnuLinEx includes packages containing an innovative new tool called Squeak that can generate multimedia content without a thorough knowledge of computers. We will discuss this tool later.
Regional training plan
Teacher training. Teachers need to learn how to use ICTs in education and acquire a knowledge of new teaching roles (with the teaching tools and materials now available, we can adapt to diversity, apply more active and less theoretical methodologies, apply new continuous assessment techniques, etc).
The motivation of teachers to use these materials will no doubt increase in line with their instrumental and teacher training and as they discover good teaching practices relating to the use of these media, which they can easily reproduce in the context of their work. The introduction of computers into the classroom has been an important step forward in the use of the many multimedia teaching resources by teachers, who now have the support of a powerful teaching ally without the need to move the entire class to the IT room.
Since the year 2000, there has been an intensive, coordinated effort to boost ICT training in schools in Extremadura and encourage content generation. This training has been carried out across the region, mainly by staff at the Centres for Teachers and Resources (new technology consultants), in two forms: on-site and web-based.
During the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 academic years, 4,301 teachers attended web-based training in Extremadura.
Three web-based activities were scheduled for the 2003-2004 academic year (one per term), attended by almost 2,500 teachers. The high demand has necessitated large-scale action, both in the number of activities and in the resources required to launch these. The main aim of the courses has been to raise awareness of the free programs in gnuLinEx and the teaching applications that it includes (gnuLinEx-Edu).
Around 350 activities have been carried out through on-site training, attended by some 7,800 teachers. Web-based training has also been a great success with teachers of Extremadura because travel and timetable incompatibilities are no longer an issue with this type of training.
A web-based training platform has also been set up with the name Campus Abierto (campus.linex.org), under a GPL licence. This platform can incorporate any advances made in platforms because it can be freely modified and adapted.
In parallel to this training plan, each Centre for Teachers and Resources schedules training activities based on the needs detected at schools within its catchment area.
Obviously, training been based on gnuLinEx since the creation and presentation of the tool, both to provide basic knowledge of the system and to explain its possibilities in teaching: image processing, multimedia, etc.
Training of Extra-Curricular Activity Monitors in ICTs. The school day for pupils of pre-school and primary age involves classroom activities in the morning and extra-curricular activities in the afternoon. The twenty-eight extra-curricular activities offered are grouped into six categories, one of which is new information technologies. The monitors who teach the activities in this category are given special training in order to set down the basic contents common to all centres.
Meetings and conferences are also held to coordinate and provide support to monitors, taking advantage of the extra-curricular activities held at schools in Extremadura to integrate ICTs into all areas of the syllabus, extending them to related groups (such as parent-teacher associations) through training courses, project development, etc.
Specific and advanced training on equipment, servers, programming and web design is also given to the new technology consultants of the eighteen Centros de Profesores y Recursos (Centres for Teachers and Resources) in Extremadura.
Lastly, training is scheduled for students in higher education to give them sufficient knowledge of information and communication technologies to prepare them for Internet business management and to support and advise them on business creation in the new economy.
The decision to use free software and gnuLinEx in schools in Extremadura. The choice of the RTE as the first step in the distribution and use of gnuLinEx was determined by the political goal of hitting the ratio of one computer for every two students in 2005, an aim reached in secondary schools in 2003 thanks to gnuLinEx and its features.
The use of completely free software among students, developed over the Internet by people who are physically distant from one another but with a collaborative spirit, is a lesson in itself. The decision to use free software in education was based on the many advantages it offers for teaching:
It can be freely used, modified or distributed; copying is legal, which means that students and teachers can legally copy it.
The use of a free system largely eliminates the problems of piracy. It is natural to want to share your programs with others and, with free software, this is legal.
It is open, so the program code can be used and modified. In subjects that so require, it can be studied and improved, and we can learn from real programs with millions of users.
It is collaborative, participative and customisable.
It is economical.
In general, schools around the world work with virtually no budgets and obsolete computer equipment. Due to the limitations of technical and financial resources, the impossibility of purchasing up-to-date software to ensure that students do not become illiterate in the new information and communication era poses a further problem.
Free software offers a solution to this shortage of resources since its advantages include the fact that it has very few technical requirements (basic architecture) and it is free, making it a very valuable technical and teaching resource in schools. The features of gnuLinEx are:
system with applications and an operating system in a single distribution;
office automation package that contains the most common applications and supports the standard formats on the market;
multimedia and imaging editing programs;
Internet browsing, communication and network management programs; and
application for the remote control of computers.
The total cost of this equipment would amount to over € 1,800 per computer on the market but with the installation of gnuLinEx and the subsequent software licence savings for each of the 66,000 plus computers for education, around € 1,000 has been saved. The complete development of gnuLinEx (including servers, distribution of copies and promotion) has cost approximately € 300,000.
The need to boost the RTE on the one hand and to obtain absolute control over the high number of existing pieces of computer equipment (the result of efforts to bring IT to all classrooms) on the other, meant that a stable and powerful system had to be found for working as a network and that software was needed that could be updated without having to depend on third parties, with minimal costs and tools that could be used by teachers, students and the parents of students.
gnuLinEx is also used to manage the e-mail accounts of teaching staff and to house the websites of the teacher and resource centres and the educational establishments.
To install and run gnuLinEx in educational establishments in Extremadura, the results of previous partial experiences were taken into account. The main difficulties detected then concerned the lack of full support for migrating to the new system, although we should remember that it was the first time that a government institution in Europe launched a free software distribution.
The organisational structure of the teacher and resource centres, which divides the region into eighteen sub-regions, was used. All of the new technology teaching consultants at these centres have been trained in gnuLinEx, both in technical aspects and in its possibilities for teaching. These consultants offer training support to teaching staff at the educational establishments, in collaboration with the non-teaching IT administrators at each centre.
Execution consisted of three phases:
Training of an "avant-garde" group, composed of around a hundred teaching staff with computing experience and a number of other professionals, the purpose of which was to reflect on and experiment with the possibilities of new technologies in teaching.
The results of the previous phase stood the project in good stead for the second, more critical phase, which took place in 2002-2003, when nineteen secondary schools from the region were fitted with the complete infrastructure. The aim of this phase was to complete the technical model (hardware and software) for each centre and the teaching model (use of the infrastructure). Initially, the greatest difficulties were to overcome the typical inertia towards the use of computer applications and certain incompatibilities with existing contents. However, in the light of previous experiences, the use of free software meant that these contents could be adapted.
The third phase began with a costly though necessary decision: to transfer the experience to all educational establishments, extending the training programme and informative activities to all teaching staff of secondary schools, based, naturally, on the experience acquired in the previous phases.
The main problems and challenges that needed to be addressed were: the lack of a model to follow, an overwhelming infrastructure and the incompatibility of contents with gnuLinEx. In the end, however, the features of the free software guaranteed the ultimate success of the project.
Coordination has been key. The success obtained in technical aspects stemmed from the adoption of a flexible free technology model that allowed for excellent control of all resources, thus minimising maintenance requirements. In organisation and teaching, success came about in the form of teaching practices now used to provide training in use of the new classrooms to all teaching staff of educational establishments.
Squeak is a free software cross-platform program (it runs on over twenty platforms) for the creation of multimedia content. On the one hand, it is a multimedia development tool that allows new users and children aged 7 and up to programme and build complex systems while, on the other, it is a tool/environment/language based on Small-talk-80 that is geared primarily to multimedia and simulation environments for IT professionals and experts.
Given this wide array of possibilities, the tool is used not only in educational contexts but also for the development of web applications and research into user interfaces and operating systems.
Its main architect, Dr Alan Kay, is regarded today as one of the fathers of modern computing: he created the windows environment for personal computers and was the first computer scientist to use the mouse as a screen cursor.
For its features and possibilities, the Regional Department for Education, Science and Technology has incorporated Squeak into the educational context of Extremadura with the support of Small-Land. For the RTE, the installation of gnuLinEx and Squeak on the region's 80,000 computers will enable teachers to generate their own active contents for subjects and transform students into key players of the construction of their knowledge. Moreover, because it is a flexible and customisable tool, any additional features required from an educational standpoint can be incorporated.
The educational community of Extremadura has welcomed the use of this tool, with working groups being formed immediately to develop Squeak projects. Beginners' courses for teaching staff are also being held (on-site classes and distance courses using the campus abierto tool) on learning with and the possibilities of everyday use of Squeak in the classroom.
The PAT (Technological Literacy Plan) initiative was launched by the Junta of Extremadura in collaboration with the Asociación Regional de Universidades Populares (regional association of popular universities), local governments and other collaborating organisations with the aim of providing IT training to the entire population of Extremadura and ensuring global access to the information and knowledge society. It was designed to meet the needs of sectors of the population that arrived late to the new technology era and to educate the adult population, making it one of the region's key technology actions.
The PAT is carried out through NCCs ( Nuevos Centros del Conocimiento or New Knowledge Centres), public spaces with an Internet connection and: an IT technician, a social catalyst, eight Internet-ready computers and the most common peripherals (scanner, printer, digicam, etc). This equipment creates an environment whereby users and social, economic and cultural institutions can discover and experiment with the opportunities arising in Extremadura as a result of information and communication technologies.
The NCCs were launched as a pilot project in 1999 with six centres based in community centres. There are now thirty-four centres, located mainly in rural areas at a certain distance from big cities or in disadvantaged urban areas as a means of social and cultural integration. Local governments have launched many initiatives to introduce them into their respective areas, as is the case of the NCCs of Navalmoral de la Mata (Cáceres) and Los Santos de Maimona (Badajoz), the latter of which uses the available resources of the town's school.
The aim is to set up a centre in every town or city in Extremadura to guarantee equal access and connectivity.
The users of the centres, citizens and organisations interact on projects taking into account the interests and demand of the population of Extremadura. As a result, they act as à la carte technology training venues while also promoting social and cultural participation.
Another interesting contribution to the PAT is that made by the itinerant IntegraRed team, which has portable centres that visit rural areas with populations of 235-800 inhabitants. These centres remain in each area for one-week periods and meet the aims of the PAT by spreading and generalising the use of ICTs.
The main aim of the PAT is to identify the attitudes and skills of the population of Extremadura, to find out which need to be maintained and which have to be changed. The specific aims of the PAT are:
to promote free and democratic access to ICTs among the population, allowing them to take part in the structural changes taking place in the information society in Extremadura;
to encourage the participation of social organisations and to train the population in enterprising skills;
to promote the creation of social and virtual spaces, fostering collaboration between institutions, organisations and populations with common interests;
to ensure the involvement of Extremaduran society in the spread of its local and regional culture and to reinforce its collective identity through the Internet;
to transfer the knowledge generated as a catalyst, project and plan for social improvement;
to guarantee the use and development of gnuLinEx for equality of opportunity among all citizens, social organisations, institutions, companies and local governments;
to promote the use of IT tools as learning and communication management systems; and
to act as a reference for the possibilities of technological literacy and free software.
The most innovative aspect of the PAT is its teaching/learning model, which is carried out by management technicians in the different centres (IT catalyst and social catalyst) and a number of volunteers. The model takes its inspiration from the educational participation of adult learning (motivation, skills acquisition, participation) and the activities are designed as methodological tools to encourage learning, with a particular focus on:
Knowledge of the environment: familiarisation with the way of life and socio-economic features of the region.
Focus on specific needs: specific needs and interests of the users.
Technological initiation: familiarising the user with the technological environment (what computers are and how they are used).
Development of basic technological skills to ensure the correct use of IT tools.
The use of free software for the acquisition of basic technological skills allows users to choose from the variety of available software options. Neither cost nor difficulty are obstacles to the general use of ICTs by the population.
Research and development through pilot projects geared towards sharing and improving knowledge with communities that develop free software, improved access to the Internet and communications, etc.
gnuLinEx, designed for use in the educational environment but made available to the entire population for private or business use, is a key component of the PAT because its main aim is to ensure universal access to ICTs among the population, without discrimination for any reason.
The support for the entire technological literacy process of Extremadura to eliminate and/or bridge the digital divide is the use of gnuLinEx; hence, since its presentation, all NCCs have used and adopted it as their working philosophy. The incorporation of gnuLinEx into all computer equipment and its knowledge and use by users has had positive results and experiences in the design of innovative activities, with the aim of spreading and raising the profile of the alternatives. The numbers of elderly citizens who learn how to use a computer or surf the Internet at these centres reveals that fears about free software systems are completely unfounded.
The use of gnuLinEx has changed the vision and role of users: they are no longer mere consumers of technology, but rather participants of a community.
Actions with gnuLinEx in NCCs:
Migration and adaptation of the previous infrastructure of all centres.
Distribution conferences, with videoconferencing with key figures from the free software community.
Creation of groups for learning skills in gnuLinEx.
Creation of technological development teams among users with an interest in free software.
Participation in promotional fairs and events.
The following conclusions can be drawn from the experience gained with gnuLinEx as a tool for everyday activity and the technological literacy of NCC users:
For new users, free software training is as easy and affordable as training in any other software on the market.
For advanced users who use or have used other operating systems, the transition to gnuLinEx represents no major difficulties, as has been the case when they switched from their usual system to more user-friendly or up-to-date systems.
gnuLinEx has emerged as a tool allowing us to create our own developments that can be shared with other organisations and institutions and vice versa. The process of continuing technological literacy continues under the "Be legal, copy LinEx Extremadura" slogan.
The participative technological methodology and gnuLinEx depend on the people who form the information society, making it easy to adapt and use in other rural communities. The governments of Autonomous Communities in Spain such as Castile-La Mancha, Valencia and Andalusia and countries such as Brazil, India, Colombia, Nicaragua, Peru, Chile and Uruguay have all visited Extremadura to learn about and study the PAT. The upshot of this is that they are using Extremadura's experience to develop similar plans in their respective regions and/or countries.
Castile-La Mancha is developing a technological literacy plan in collaboration with the Ínsula Barataria Foundation, with a hundred centres with similar features to the NCCs.
Andalusia has launched a project called Guadalinfo to set up technological literacy centres.
Colombia is developing the LinExCol (LinEx of Extremadura for Colombia) project, a distribution created by Fundehumano with the support of the Junta of Extremadura.
Vivernet (Centre for New Technology Businesses) is a programme of the Regional Department for Education, Science and Technology set up in collaboration with Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (FUNDECYT, the Foundation for the Development of Science and Technology). Its aims are: to aid in the generation of new businesses in the field of the information society by offering young enterprisers with creative skills the resources they need to develop their activities, to support the technological adaptation of SMEs by offering the businessmen and women of Extremadura a vision of the new opportunities for business and management of ICTs, and to promote the use of free software in the business sector.
Vivernet was launched in mid-2000 and has since contributed to the consolidation of companies in the ICT sector already operating in Extremadura, offering support and encouraging collaboration and cooperation between them. As a business centre for new technology companies, Vivernet hopes to be a reference for these companies and has set up the following lines of action:
Working with enterprisers who wish to launch projects in the ICT sector, whether in rural or urban areas.
Offering consulting services to guide enterprisers to success in their projects and activities.
Holding courses on technologies and business administration, including courses on tools and free software applications that specialise in business management.
Promoting collaboration and the exchange of ideas and experiences to encourage the creation of business networks.
Encouraging the use and development of technological tools to adapt SMEs in Extremadura, helping them to grow and increase their competitiveness.
Supporting and spreading the use of free software in general and gnuLinEx in particular across businesses in Extremadura. This is done through training courses, either at basic level for an introduction to gnuLinEx or at a more detailed level for specific applications such as Zurbarán (Gimp), for digital image processing.
Conferences and forums are also held on the business opportunities of free software in this sector in Extremadura for businessmen and women, enterprisers and students about to complete their studies.
Vivernet has strengthened its business support structure with two business centres for enterprisers, located in Cáceres and in Badajoz, respectively, with a virtual space ( http://www.vivernet.com ) and an itinerant team that takes its work to the rural parts of Extremadura. These business incubators offer the following resources and services:
Logistical resources and technological equipment. The centres provide offices equipped with sufficient technological infrastructure for the optimal development of business activities. These offices are offered to enterprisers who opt for a business activity related to the information and knowledge society. Candidates for this option must submit a business plan and a project feasibility study that a panel of experts will study to decide who these areas will be offered to. The business centres also have other areas and common resources (fax, copying, security, cleaning, etc.) that can be used by those in charge of business initiatives, including classrooms and meeting rooms.
Information and documentation service. This service offers a combination of information and guidance on the diverse facets of business. They also manage the vivernet.com virtual space, which produces specialised informative newsletters and provides selective information services for the initiatives and companies based at the centres.
Legal advice and consulting service. This service helps businessmen and women to draw up a business plan and study its economic viability. It also offers advice on the administrative procedures involved in setting up a business and on tax requirements and financial issues.
IT and technology support service. This manages the IT systems of the centres and offers technology advice to enterprisers.
In order to achieve the aims of Vivernet with potential enterprisers in the rural parts of the region, an itinerant team of experts has been set up that travels across Extremadura to help with the drafting of new business plans and offer legal, business and technological advice.
Vivernet inaugurated the Cáceres business centre in April 2000 and in July of that year, another centre was opened in Badajoz. The itinerant team began its work in September of the same year. The results obtained since then have been: 148 business plans analysed and 70 companies given support; 3,370 hours of courses attended by 2,703 students; 4,327 registered Vivernet users and 68,934 visits from businessmen and women and enterprisers requiring its services; 12 companies hosted under the vivernet.net domain, 287,451 vivernet.com users and 4,115,208 visits to the Vivernet site.
gnuLinEx is stimulating the creation of new companies and businesses in the development of content and applications based on free software.
The Vivernet programme, whose main aims include the promotion of free software in the region's business sector, has led to the creation of seventy firms, of which 80% use gnuLinEx and 20% base their business on activities related directly to it.
Two companies from Extremadura (.DEV and Astron) recently created two programs based on gnuLinEx for the business community, Facturlinex and Contalinex, under the general name of Gestionlinex.
Along these lines, Vivernet has launched what it has called LinEx-Empresa, a space designed to promote actions to encourage the use of gnuLinEx in companies, which can be found at the gnulinex.net business site.
Vivernet has been working on two new activities since October 2003 that will extend the initial aims of the project and create new fields in which to apply the working methodology of the Vivernet team of experts.
The first activity involves the technological adaptation of SMEs in Extremadura while the second deals with the migration of companies in the region from proprietary software to the use of free software. This activity is carried out through the business portal, which offers a series of migration tools and utilities, besides spaces for collaboration, queries, news and repositories of free programs for business management.
The second activity is called Linex-Empresa and is a combination of actions designed to extend the use of gnuLinEx and free applications and programs in companies across Extremadura. It is funded by the Regional Department of Labour and the Economy of the Junta of Extremadura as part of its SME consolidation and competitiveness plan.
The purpose of Linex-Empresa is to establish and/or consolidate itself as a public reference of business unity, promoting synergies between companies and projects and actions undertaken in the field of free software through the exchange of information, the development of training actions and the fostering of business cooperation.
Moreover, Linex-Empresa seeks to become a tool of reference for the traditional businesses in Extremadura that wish to update their commercial and administrative processes or migrate their software licences to free software.
In short, Linex-Empresa is an action devised as an introduction to the use of free software in the world's business sector. It is an excellent opportunity to spread and support the regional market of software creation and development, which bases its business model on the development of applications and the provision of services, competing with the business model used by major corporations that base their profits on licence sales. Access to the source code of the applications and programs allows these to be modified and adapted to suit the specific needs of a particular company.
Through its Linex-Empresa project, Vivernet has released the full Gestionlinex management package (Facturlinex v.1.3 + integrated accounting) and the Contalinex accounting tool under a GPL licence.
Facturlinex, developed by .DEV, is a client-server application for invoicing that can be run by multiple users, which is useful for both small companies and large corporations with branches.
It can be used in shops, whose main operations are the management of information on sales, warehouses and cash registers, or in administrative offices that need to carry out invoicing, ordering, accounting or strategic management with real-time connections between all of these activities.
When used as a point-of-sale terminal, the application speeds up ordering and invoice requests, reducing waiting time and improving customer care and the competitive efficiency of the company. The application can control the movement of the entire warehouse, cash register and invoicing, all at a competitive price because of the savings made with free software licences. Version 1.3 of the application offers improved database access and modules for monitoring size and colour; it comes with an integrated accounting application the result of which is the Gestionlinex package, the ideal solution for the commercial management and daily accounting of SMEs, all under the gnuLinEx distribution.
Gestionlinex has become the alternative and ideal solution for account management and daily business management on the gnuLinEx and other Linux distributions.
ContaLinEx, developed by Astron and released under the GPL licence for gnuLinEx, is an accounting tool providing commercial and accounting management solutions for any form of company that runs on any GNU/Debian 3.0 (or higher) environment. The possibilities of this program include editing of the general ledger, journal, profit and loss accounts, balance sheets, etc.
Extremadura is home to companies that have developed and continue to develop free software or which offer services related to them. Other companies from the region have migrated their systems and adopted this type of program for their daily management and the training of their employees.
The following companies either develop free software or provide related services:
PuntoDev GNU S.L. This company located in the city of Badajoz develops free software for SMEs.
Ilkebenson S.L.L. A company with head offices in Cáceres and Badajoz that produces free administrative software with a customised distribution.
Adaptia. Company located in Cáceres that specialises in free software such as GNU/Linux and gnuLinEx.
Silex Consultores. New company based in Badajoz that offers solutions for gnuLinEx.
The following companies have adopted free applications created in Extremadura, specifically the Gestionlinex suite, for the administration/management of shops and points of sale:
Perfumery-Drug Store (Cáceres)
Nuovapelle (Madrid, Badajoz, Cáceres, Don Benito, etc.)
Granja El Cruce (chain of stores selling poultry products in Extremadura)
Cava de Puros Ángel (Badajoz)
Sexy Cats (Badajoz)
Alfonso, Bebé y Modas (Almendralejo)
Amaya, Centro de Modas (Almendralejo)
Infodex (Estrategia Regional de Sociedad de la Información, Regional Strategy of the Information Society) is a project launched in 1997 that formed the strategic framework and starting point in the history and development of all actions that have guided Extremadura along the way to the information society.
Infodex was an inter-regional cooperation project funded by the European Union and the Junta of Extremadura through FUNDECYT and set in the context of the RISI (Regional Information Society Initiative).
In its first phase (1997-2000), Infodex conducted a study of the situation, potential and challenges faced by the region in its use and spread of information and communication technologies.
The conditions of diverse sectors were analysed in order to learn about Extremadura's ability to deal with the impact of the information society. This diagnosis resulted in a master plan, which included the main programmes that Extremadura needed to carry out in education, telecommunications, government, health and business.
In its second phase (2000-2001), Infodex identified and performed specific actions showing that it was possible and profitable for Extremadura to form part of the ICT revolution through the proposal and development of specific pilot projects.
Its third and final phase (2001-2002) was geared towards support for consolidation of the previous phase, which included the following actions:
The telecommunications network, materialised through its intranet.
The extension of the intranet of Extremadura to the diverse schools of the regional government in all towns and cities of the region and the technological development of the Technological Learning Network.
Human resources training in ICTs through the NCCs, Vivernet and the Technological Learning Network.
The generation of contents for the network.
At the end of the Infodex project, the actions, projects, training activities, relationships and collaborations set up and built on throughout the latter required new actions if we were to reach the aims set at the project launch. This led to the creation of the CFNI ( Centro de Fomento de Nuevas Iniciativas, Centre for the Promotion of New Initiatives).
This programme of the Junta of Extremadura was launched as the logical evolution of the Infodex project, designed to establish and introduce a new strategic schedule and continue the activities identifying the information and knowledge society, guaranteeing coherence with the actions carried out in the framework of the Infodex project, which was important for the development and implementation of gnuLinEx.
In the first stage (2003-2003), the CFNI developed the following programmes:
Consolidation of a regional centre for the promotion of new activities in the information society that would act as a hub for networks of information and knowledge society activities in Extremadura.
Support to the Technological Learning Network and generation of contents for it.
Execution of the e-Extremadura programme (a regional ERDF 2000-2006 programme for innovative actions).
Development of gnuLinEx.
The results of the centre's activities have all been very positive:
The e-Extremadura programme has mobilised all of the region's public and private agents (regional, local and provincial governments, universities, non-profit organisations and SMEs), which have launched more than eighty innovative projects in the field of ICTs.
Support for the Technological Learning Network has led to its materialisation and provided schools in Extremadura with an up-to-date technological infrastructure offering the world's highest student to computer ratio. A major breakthrough has also been made in the development of educational content.
The use of free software and the creation of gnuLinEx have been crucial to the region's progress, the universalisation of connectivity and technological literacy.
The direct and active participation of the CFNI in all of these processes has encouraged its consolidation and allowed it to carry out new activities as well as improving those carried out to date. At its current stage (2003-2004), the CFNI acts in the following capacities:
Centre for the support and development of gnuLinEx, the main aim of which is to provide technical support to the new versions of gnuLinEx and the linex.org website, besides promoting, developing and innovating through free software.
Regional observatory of the information society, whose main purpose will be to study, document and raise the profile of the information society process taking place in Extremadura, in order to obtain a global vision of it.
Coordinator of the e-Extremadura programme as a continuation of the previous stage and implementer of the new programme of innovative actions.
In its new role, the CFNI will obviously continue to support the Technological Learning Network and collaborate on the generation of contents. It also carries out an important task of documentation and exposure for free software and the information society, creating networks of collaboration and cooperation either in the framework of European Union programmes and initiatives or in the national and international development and implementation of gnuLinEx.
The CFNI as a centre for the support and development of free software
The boom in free software experienced in all areas and the national and international importance and repercussions of this for the creation and development of gnuLinEx have made it necessary to bolster actions for this distribution and to continue its technical and strategic improvement.
The CFNI is responsible for the technical coordination and development of the new versions of gnuLinEx, working at the core of the system and on the programming and release of the various versions. In this task, it has the support of leading national and international figures in free software and the team working on the development of the other information society programmes of the region and the regional government.
The specific tasks carried out by the CFNI for gnuLinEx development and support are:
Technical development of gnuLinEx and the new versions of the operating system, with the creation and integration of new applications tailored to the needs of the regional government, and the promotion of the Squeak tool in the design of educational content for the Technological Learning Network.
Management of the linex.org site and technical support to users through it.
Promotion of free software and systems migration in government bodies. The CFNI is carrying out training actions and offering advice to the regional government of Extremadura in order to raise awareness and encourage the migration of its systems to free software.
Free software training for all sectors of the population.
Support and collaboration with Vivernet to support companies that offer services related to free software and incentivise the incorporation of this software into their business activities.
Since the creation of gnuLinEx and in accordance with the aims set by the regional government, the CFNI carries out a task of promotion and diffusion in collaboration with the other programmes, resulting in the following actions:
General meetings, conferences, courses and panels of experts designed to familiarise the population with gnuLinEx, free software and ICTs, and reveal the benefits and possibilities that they offer.
Organisation of events specialising in the demonstration of experiences and examples of good practices in free software.
Training in the use of ICTs, free software and gnuLinEx.
Presence and participation in events specialising in the information society and/or free software, whether locally, nationally or internationally.
Participation in task forces, particularly those to promote free software in the government of Extremadura.
Activities promoting the regional information society strategy of Extremadura, particularly gnuLinEx, in diverse media.
As part of its contribution to technological research, it promotes innovation, quality and competitiveness in the region in order to improve the development of free software. The CFNI supports research groups from the region through FUNDECYT and in collaboration with the public and private organisations that develop R&D programmes.
The e-Extremadura innovative programme of actions that we will discuss later has been crucial for establishing contact with research groups and for attracting and carrying out projects with gnuLinEx. The project assessment criteria include the project's use of or compatibility with free software.
To sum up, the CFNI fosters access to greater knowledge of IT systems and supports technological research and development by attempting to halt the exodus of intelligence as a guarantee for the region's technological growth and greater likelihood that problems will be solved more quickly.
The CFNI and the Regional Observatory of the Information Society
Since the launch of the Infodex project and its evolution through the CFNI, its activities have always included a crucial task: analysis and documentation of the strategies, processes and evolution of the information society in Extremadura and in Spain and the world in general. It was therefore necessary to adopt a new method to continue the tasks of observation and monitoring of the evolution and changes affecting the latter: the Observatorio Regional de Sociedad de la Información or Regional Observatory of the Information Society.
The observatory is the instrument allowing us to obtain and analyse information on the level of development and use of ICTs in Extremaduran society and to spread this information across the existing regional and European observatory networks in order to collaborate with similar bodies and set indicators and comparative studies for introducing actions to improve and reach the level of other European regions.
Obviously, the observatory plays a vital role in the study of the status and evolution of free software around the world and in collaboration with the centre for the support and development of free software.
The CFNI and the regional innovative actions programme: e-Extremadura
The activities of the CFNI include helping to coordinate the regional innovative actions programme of the ERDF 2000-2006, presented by the Regional Department for Education, Science and Technology.
The e-Extremadura programme, regulated by Decree 64/2002 of 28 May (published in the Official Gazette of Extremadura on 11 June 2002), has, on the one hand, ensured the collaboration of all regional government departments in the programme and, on the other, introduced a new method for defining initiatives, since it is the first time that an action has been designed with the cross-sector participation of regional agents.
As explained earlier, the e-Extremadura programme played a significant role in the promotion and use of gnuLinEx, which was fundamental for the latter as a candidate innovative project in the framework of the programme. Moreover, the design of gnuLinEx took into account the general aims of this programme as the definition and design of the two were almost parallel.
Since the launch of the two calls for projects (June 2002 and January 2003), which saw the presentation of over seven hundred projects and the co-funding of over seventy, private organisations (companies and the tertiary sector), the University of Extremadura and the local and provincial governments of the region have established the following horizontal objectives with the contribution of gnuLinEx:
Differentiated technological literacy. With this aim, the use of gnuLinEx, which can be freely copied and distributed, can reduce the digital divide by offering the population free access to ICTs.
Generation and adaptation of digital content. The creation and adaptation of digital content with free software means that it can be used, improved and adapted to the specific needs of individual users. Content created in applications that can be used generally without influence from the program, operating system or brand used, thus allowing the user to obtain the software free of charge.
Promotion of a new business and labour culture. gnuLinEx contributes to the promotion and increase of new business models for the generation and adaptation of contents and applications in free software.
gnuLinEx was taken into account in the project assessment and selection criteria because many of these considered it as a development platform or for literacy and learning content.
Free software in general and gnuLinEx in particular represent an increasingly popular alternative, not only in Extremadura but also in other regions of Spain and other parts of the world.
The Be legal, copy LinEx slogan is, in effect, a declaration of principles. gnuLinEx came about as a response to a series of needs that had arisen in Extremadura at a specific time in order to solve a problem associated with achieving a set of proposed aims. gnuLinEx was initially planned to reach the whole of Extremadura and to be extended to all those who requested at a later date.
With the creation of gnuLinEx, a massive promotional, profile-raising campaign was launched, which resulted firstly in collaboration offers from free software professionals and user groups, including GULEX (Extremadura's Linux user group) and HISPALINUX (the association of Linux users of Spain).
Since its official presentation, the spread and distribution of gnuLinEx has taken a number of forms:
CD-ROM copies at diverse events and on request through the linex.org site (over 200,000 copies).
Downloads of the program from www.linex.org, or existing mirror sites (over 100,000 downloads from the website).
The regional press of Extremadura, which distributed a free gnuLinEx CD-ROM in June 2002 with each copy of the newspaper.
Specialist national magazines, such as TodoLinux and MundoLinux, which distributed a free gnuLinEx CD-ROM with their magazines in December 2002.
Spread of gnuLinEx through its presence at various technology fairs and conferences, congresses, etc., (approximately 87 events to date).
Courses and workshops on gnuLinEx (around 50) held for teaching staff, IT system administrators, other government employees, businessmen and women and enterprisers through Vivernet and for the general population through the NCCs.
Around 400,000 copies of gnuLinEx have been distributed in total, including those downloaded directly from the site and those on CD-ROM. Of these, the gnuLinEx Live v. 4.0 version, first distributed in SIMO TCI-03, was widely acclaimed because it could run directly from the user's computer disc drive without the need to install the program on the hard drive while offering the same number of applications and features. The purpose of this action was to give users an introduction to free software and an invitation to test out its many possibilities.
The appearance of gnuLinEx-related news in diverse national and international media also helped to raise the profile of the distribution, affording it considerable visibility, all revealed by the growing interest of technological companies and government institutions in learning about it and in the increased demand for gnuLinEx copies.
This action attempted to reach all users regardless of their age. Hence, since the start of the year, over 25,000 copies of a paper comic about gnuLinEx have been distributed among primary-school children from the region. Its cartoons explain how and why the project was launched, drawing the reader into an adventure of knowledge about the possibilities of free software and gnuLinEx applications. Linextremix, the main character, is the link between gnuLinEx and its younger users.
To complement all this promotional and profile-raising activity, not only of gnuLinEx but of free software in general, the Junta of Extremadura has also encouraged reflection on the latter. Thus, diverse personalities and groups of international repute took part in various events hosted by the regional government, including Jesús González Barahona, Richard Stallman, Miguel de Icaza, José M.ª Olmo, various free software associations, etc.
As explained earlier, the diffusion of gnuLinEx has led to calls for collaboration and cooperation from prestigious associations and figures, basically for the transfer of knowledge and collaboration on the technical development of free software to avoid going over ground already covered. It has also served to establish communication with other regions and countries for sharing experiences and good practices.
The alternative represented by free software is becoming increasingly stronger and popular, which is probably due to the constitution of two associations of free software users in Extremadura: GULEX (Linux/Unix user group of Extremadura) and Sinuh (LinEx user association), and the first gnuLinEx business association in Extremadura. LinEx Debs was also set up in the same way. The members of this gnuLinEx user group are regular participants of forums on the linex.org site, who decided to form a group to detect bugs and provide solutions to improve subsequent versions of gnuLinEx.
One example of gnuLinEx transferability and collaboration agreements for research and development in free software between the Junta of Extremadura and other regions – that is also a model demonstrating the advantages of free software in the development of e-government – is the cooperation protocol signed between the regional governments of Extremadura and Andalusia in April 2003 for the use and diffusion of free software and gnuLinEx in particular. By this agreement, the government of Extremadura facilitates the use of gnuLinEx to the government of Andalusia and establishes mechanisms of cooperation for the development of new applications and free software support and diffusion activities. This agreement resulted in the launch of the GUADALINEX project in June 2003.
Other regional governments of Spain have also shown an interest in implementing free software in their respective Autonomous Communities, following the example of Extremadura. These include the Basque Country, Aragon, the Canary Islands, Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia.
On an international scale, though still within Europe, the French region of Nord Pas de Calais is preparing to introduce gnuLinEx in its institutions after confirming in situ the results of a two-year experience in the region and seeing from the example of Extremadura that free software is a perfectly viable alternative.
Although gnuLinEx has become a reference for the entire world as an example of good free software implementation in a government organisation, there has been a great deal of interest in the distribution from South America, a region that is keen to collaborate with Extremadura. As a result, the Junta of Extremadura has signed diverse collaboration agreements and protocols for the diffusion of free software and gnuLinEx in particular with South-American governments and institutions, including:
Protocol for collaboration with Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) in December 2003.
Collaboration agreement with ILAEDES (Latin-American Institute of Education for Development) of San Salvador (El Salvador) in December 2003, with the AUGM (Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group) joining the agreement later.
Protocol for collaboration with the Prefecture of the Department of Santa Cruz (Bolivia) in February 2004.
Framework collaboration agreement with FACS (Fundación Augusto C. Sandino). Managua (Nicaragua) in August 2004.
Protocol for collaboration with the Huancavelina region of Peru in September 2004.
Protocol for collaboration with the Rectory of the Technology Institute of Sonora (Ciudad de Obregón, Sonora, Mexico) in November 2004.
Actions in the private sphere include the collaboration agreement signed in May 2003 between the Junta of Extremadura and Lambdaux, at the request of this company, which was also extended to the Juan Carlos I University and the firm Infinity System. The purpose of the agreement was to share the technology that they were integrating in order to provide technical support to leading national hardware firms. This technical solution is based on the same standards as gnuLinEx, so its progress had an immediate effect on this distribution and vice versa: gnuLinEx benefitted from the incorporations required for these firms to run their products with free software. Users can now choose from two types of free software: gnuLinEx or Lux, a free operating system that is 100% compatible with gnuLinEx, created by Lambdaux under the GPL licence and pre-installed on Airis laptops. The product costs € 15 per year, which includes support and maintenance services.
From a financial point of view, the existence of a full software that can be legally copied, modified and distributed without legal restrictions helps to break down economic barriers such as the high cost of software licences.
Government organisations around the world invest a substantial proportion of their budgets in the purchase of commercial software and on improving and maintaining their IT systems. These expenses do not generate profits, so free software is both an alternative and a major opportunity as it allows savings to be made on licence fees. Moreover, new lines of research and development can be generated with this technology through collaboration and participation, which means that efforts and resources are not wasted.
In the experience of Extremadura, the independence and savings generated by the gnuLinEx system in the regional government has also been significant.
It is estimated that almost € 48,000 have been saved with the migration of the systems in its various bodies to free software. This is the cost of licences for the use of the proprietary software programs that would need to be installed in a reference implementation of twenty-two computers. Hence, the use of free software for the development of e-government offers clear benefits.
This expense, applicable not only to the regional government offices but to all of the IT equipment of the Technological Learning Network, would be impossible to meet and would hinder the development and success of a project of this size in Extremadura.
Moreover, the spread of gnuLinEx, largely responsible for breaking down these barriers in the region, has already brought benefits to companies in Extremadura related to ICTs, companies that have uncovered new business opportunities in free software and are taking advantage of the opportunities offered by gnuLinEx, developing their business along two lines:
Companies that sell IT equipment have seen their profits increase with a default installation of gnuLinEx on their computers, passing on savings in licence fees to consumers.
Megasoft System, an Extremaduran wholesale company from the IT sector is now leading the market in the sale of computers with a pre-installation of gnuLinEx instead of proprietary software. The company passed on the licence fee savings to the retail price of the product to obtain a more competitive market edge and saw its sales increase by 37.16%. The growing popularity of this type of software has recently encouraged firms such as OKI to develop it for its printer drivers.
Companies offering traditional IT services have reoriented their business by developing improvements and adapting and migrating applications to free software.
Projects offering added value and support to diffusion and aid to companies wishing to migrate their systems to free software include the Vivernet Free Software Business Platform (LinEx-Empresa), launched by the Regional Department of Labour and Economy of the Junta of Extremadura through its funding of the PCCP (SME Competitiveness and Consolidation Plan), which also received funding from the State Ministry of Economy. The aim of this project was to facilitate migration from proprietary software in companies. The project managed to consolidate itself as a public point of reference, uniting companies and encouraging synergies between them for the launch of free software projects and actions.
The chief aim of the linex.org site is to define what gnuLinEx contains in order to control its evolution. The existing free software is organised rationally because otherwise it would be virtually impossible to provide organised technical support for it all as there is so much of it. As a result, users can find technical support with what they find on the site being what they see on their computer screens.
Technical support is fast for technical queries concerning gnuLinEx, most of which concern the installation process or how to install specific devices. However, the site offers added value in one of its top features, which allows users the possibility of easily upgrading gnuLinEx through the site, an essential service. This ensures that the latest versions and/or innovations in applications of the distribution are used.
The site also has an informative function and acts as a point of reference for topical issues, not only concerning free software and gnuLinEx, but also the evolution of the information and knowledge society in Extremadura and beyond.
linex.org has an important social function in that it has become a virtual meeting space and point of reference for gnuLinEx users.
Data recorded on the evolution of interest in the implementation of free software in diverse social and economic contexts are interesting because they reveal a significant increase in users who opt to use free software or who have already migrated their systems.
This growing interest stirred by the possibilities of free software and gnuLinEx in particular can be seen in various signs obtained through the site:
The number of downloads and requests received for the distribution. Many gnuLinEx downloads are carried out through the site: around 100,000 downloads to date of all released distributions.
The number of users currently registered, approximately 6,976 users.
The number of visits to the site. Since its creation, it has received more than twelve million visits, over half of these in the last year (according to data from July 2004), which works out at an average of 700,000 visits per month. Interestingly, 72% of these visits were made through free browsers.
Since the creation and launch of gnuLinEx, several versions of the distribution have been released, including Live 4.0. The new versions and the revisions of these have enabled us to improve the software, allowing it to work with hardware that previous versions had difficulties with.
gnuLinEx is a GNU/Linux distribution, a series of free applications that make up a complete operating system aimed at end users, based on the GNU/Debian distribution in the GNOME graphical environment, which is a very simple user interface that offers users a whole range of common applications and programs allowing them to get to work immediately: word processor, spreadsheets, image editor, photo retouching, website editing, browser, music and video player, e-mail, etc., and the series of educational applications included in LinEx-Edu.
gnuLinEx uses a very simplified graphical installation process in which almost all tasks are carried out automatically. As regards compatibility, the files generated by gnuLinEx applications are fully compatible with typical file formats. gnuLinEx is also compatible with virtually all available devices, such as printers, scanners, digital cameras and other peripherals.
The first version of gnuLinEx was v.2.0, launched in April 2002. This version was developed by a company called Ándago and based on the last stable distribution of Debian Potato 2.2, GNOME 1.4 and OpenOffice 1.0. The graphical installation took six clicks and the applications icons appeared with representative names of Extremadura. This first version marked the culmination of a project that had been in preparation for over a year, studying its possible areas of application, evaluating its advantages and disadvantages and using it as a pilot project in a number of offices of the Regional Department for Education, Science and Technology.
However, it was version 3.0 of gnuLinEx that proved the most popular. In the summer of 2002, two lecturers from the University of Extremadura, José Luis Redrejo and Antonio Ullán, GNU/Linux users for more than six years and considered to be the architects of gnuLinEx, began to create an improved version of the distribution, the result of which was an excellent distribution with over 200 different applications and some specialist applications requested by users.
Version 3.0 of gnuLinEx is based on Debian Woody 3 and GNOME 2.0, with numerous backports to adapt it to the graphical environment. The installation process was improved (based on progeny) and included educational programs for primary and secondary schools and the packages containing the Squeak authoring tool. A number of revisions were made of this version: 3.0r1, 3.0r1+ g2.2, 3.0r2, the latter of which was also presented at SIMO 2003 along with the Live version, developed by José Ángel Díaz, bootable from a CD-ROM, with improved visual themes and based on metadistros.
Version 3.0 of gnuLinEx also had a version called Free, with 100% free software (no Flash or Java).
The last version to appear was gnuLinEx 2004, based on Debian Sarge, GNOME 2.4, kernel 2.6 and OpenOffice 1.1.
The first revision of this last version was gnuLinEx 2004 rc2, which contains kernel 2.6.7. and GNOME 2.6. There have been many improvements both to the applications and utilities and to the graphical appearance. They include the following:
First stable distribution using component technology, allowing the production of packet blocks with their own logic and conditioners and facilitating the mixing of versions and distributions.
Improved installation process (based on the Anaconda port). The combination of Anaconda and component technology allows for customised installations.
Based entirely on GNOME; the KDE configuration tools have disappeared.
All applications have been translated, although the help for some programs is still only available in English.
The names and icons of the applications are the same in Brazil, Andalusia and Extremadura. Their appearance can be changed back to their original status.
Includes the series of Linex-Edu educational applications, classified by subject.
There is a second revision, gnuLinEx 2004rl, whose improvements include:
The possibility of upgrading from Menu applications (fingerprint).
The official repository was upgraded from gnuLinEx 2004 to gnuLinEx'2004 rl with an image of GNU/Debian SARGE, which means that the 10,000 plus applications of the latter can also be installed.
Others, such as:
Mozilla Firefox 1.0
Numerous bugs fixed
New drivers for USB modems and winmodems
A list of the applications contained in each of the gnuLinEx utilities now follows, with the customised name of the application, the original name and a brief description of what it does.
Almazara (File Roller 2.6.1). Application for creating, viewing, modifying or unpacking files, folders or compressed subfolders. Offers a unique GUI and uses commands such as .tar, .gzip and .bzipg2 for filing operations.
Diana (Gedit 2.6.0). Application for creating text files. With additional Gedit modules, diverse text editing tasks can be carried out inside the application window.
Mapuche. Unicode character map.
Nebrija (Online dictionary 2.6.0). Online dictionary for searching definitions of words in a database.
San Salvador (Gcalctool 4.3.51). Powerful calculator with different modes (basic, scientific and financial) for solving a wide range of mathematical problems.
Alhambra (gthumb 2.3.2). GNOME Image viewer and browser. For browsing the hard drive displaying files with images and viewing images in a variety of formats.
Aliseda (Sodipodi 0.33). Application for processing vector images. Works with SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) formats but can also export illustrations to PNG (Portable Network Graphics) for editing with any retouching program such as Gimp.
Azteca (Ghostview Gnome 2.6.1). Previews documents in PostScript and Portable Document Format (PDF) format.
Cuzco (Gnome 0.112 PDF viewer). Viewer for PDF files based on Xpdf.
Dehesa (XSane 0.92). Application for scanning documents.
Hervás (Camorama 0.17). Program for viewing, editing and saving images from a web camera.
Morales (DIA 0.93). Program for drawing structured diagrams. Application for basic diagram editing. It has a tool panel and a range of specific pre-designed and classified symbols that can be incorporated directly into the diagram at a single click.
Picasso (Eye of Gnome 2.6.0 in the new 2.4.1). Program for viewing and cataloguing graphics files in various formats (.bmp, .gif, .ico, .jpeg, .png, .pnm, .ras, .svg, .tga, .tiff, .xbm and .xpm). It offers various levels of magnification and full-screen viewing using little memory and Bonobo technology for embedding graphics in other GNOME applications.
Zurbarán (Gimp 2.0.1). Cross-platform graphics processing tool (drawing, composition and photo retouching).
112. Creates an emergency disk for rebooting the computer.
Aljibe (system registry viewer 2.6.0). Application for monitoring and viewing system registry files. To view system registry files, it may be necessary to start the session as a primary user.
Almenara. Displays an icon indicating when documents are being printed.
Amizada (Gnome System Tools 0.33.0). Configuration of network devices and connections).
Arco (floppy disk formatter 7.10.4).
Azarías-Internet (Foomatic-gui 0.7.1). Installs printer drivers from http://www.linuxprinting.org.
Boto (root terminal). Opens a terminal as an administrator using gksu to prompt for the password.
Caipora (Samba Server Configuration Tool 1.2.2). Creates, modifies and deletes Samba partitions. Allows Microsoft and Linux networks to exist simultaneously.
Candil (system monitor 2.6.0). Application for viewing current processes and monitoring system status.
Cazorla (Gnome System Tools 0.33.0). Tool for configuring system start-up. Used to specify the operating systems that users can choose on start-up if the hard drive is partitioned.
Cortázar (NFS server configuration tool). Creates, modifies and deletes NFS (Network File System) partitions.
Hurdes (VNC viewer). Tool for connecting to another computer running VNC and controlling the latter.
Marwan. Application for running the computer as another user. Opens a dialog window in which to enter a command to be executed as indicated by the user.
Peropalo. Starts the session as another user without quitting the current session.
Picota (Gnome System Tools 0.33.0). Management of system users and groups. Allows us to view the available users and to create new users.
Potosí (Synaptic 0.48.2). Tool for installing, deleting and upgrading software packages.
Puchero (Gconf 2.6.1). Configurations database editor. GConf is a CORBA-based system for storing configuration information, known as "key-value pairs". It forms part of the GNOME project.
Séneca (Gnome System Tools 0.33.0). Configures the services to be run on system start-up.
Tentudía (Gnome System Tools 0.33.0). Time and date settings.
Terminal (GNOME terminal 2.6.1). GNOME terminal emulator application for the following actions: access to UNIX shell in the GNOME environment and/or to run any application designed to be run on the VT102, VT220 and xterm terminals.
Trajano (GDM, Gnome Display Manager 18.104.22.168). Graphical application that configures the Gnome display manager.
Upgrade gnuLinEx. Application for automatically upgrading gnuLinEx.
Menu configuration tool. Configures certain menu tricks.
Nautilus configuration tool. Configures certain Nautilus tricks.
Wine configuration tool. Application that lets you configure Wine, the Windows emulator.
Gnome session configuration tool. Configures certain Gnome tricks.
Original icons. Application for changing the customised names and icons in gnuLinEx back to the program's original ones and vice versa.
Algar (gFTP 2.0.17). Multithreaded FTP client.
Corniche (PAN 0.14.2.91). Application for reading Usenet news and managing news groups.
Giralda (Chestnut Dialer 0.0.6). Configuration of telephone network access.
Grulla (Mozilla Firefox 0.8): Netscape-based web browser.
Guaraní (GnomeMeeting 1.0.2). Audio/videoconferencing application for calls to remote users over the Internet.
Hurdes (VNC viewer). Tool for connecting to another computer running VNC and controlling the latter.
Iguazú (WebDownloader for X 2.5 Orc3). Application for downloading files from the Internet.
Mágina (Firestarter 0.9.3). Tool for configuring firewalls.
Medellín (Nvu Mozilla 0.2). Application for designing and editing web pages.
Terrona (GAIM 0.77). Instant messaging program.
Amazonia (Volume Control 2.6.1). Mixer for audio devices.
Brasero (CD ECLiPt Roaster 2.2.0-0.8). Tool for burning audio and data CDs.
Camarón (CD player 1.547.0). Application for playing audio CDs.
Ceres (Rhythmbox 0.8.3). Application for organising and playing music files in mp3, FLAC or Ogg/Vorbis.
Doñana (Audio Recorder 2.6.1.). Application for saving and playing sound files in .flac, .ogg and .wav format.
Fluxus (Mplayer 0.90). Application for playing audio and video files.
Monfragüe (X Multimedia System 1.2.10). Cross-platform multimedia player for audio files.
Office productivity applications
Alcántara (Open Office Impress 1.1.1). Open Office presentations editor for creating slides, transparencies, etc.
Brocense (AbiWord 2.0.1). Word processor.
Cáparra (Gnumeric 1.2.11). GNOME spreadsheet.
Espronceda (Open Office Writer 1.1.1). Word processor. For designing and producing text documents with graphics, tables and diagrams. It also allows documents to be saved in a variety of formats, including Microsoft Word, HTML and Adobe PDF.
Glifo. OpenOffice.org printer administration.
Guadalupe (Ximian Evolution 1.4.6). E-mail manager.
Guaiba (Gnome MDB Viewer 0.6pre1). Graphical interface for MDB tools. For viewing and exporting databases created with MS Access 97/2000/XP.
Iulipa (MySQLControlCenter 0.9.3-Beta). Professional tool for MySQL administration.
Macondo (OpenOffice 1.1.1. HTML). HTML editor based on an OpenOffice template.
Ovando (OpenOffice 1.1.1. templates). OpenOffice tool for creating documents from a template.
Porto Alegre (Open Office Calc 1.1.1). OpenOffice spreadsheet application that can be used to calculate, analyse and manage data. It can also import and modify Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
Quipú (Openoffice.org Math 1.1.1). Application for creating mathematical formulas, with numerous operators, functions and format help.
Chivato. Programming tool (Bug Buddy 2.6.1.). Graphical Gnome utility for bug reporting.
Desktop preferences. For the configuration of devices such as audio, keyboard, mouse, desktop background, screensaver, etc.
Games. Comecocos, Frozen-Bubble, GCompris, etc.
Almuzaffar (Nautilus 2.6.3). Graphical Gnome shell for viewing and administrating system files and applications and for viewing available network servers.
Mochilero (Yelp 2.6.1). Gnome help viewer.
Startup folder. Displays the start-up folder in the Nautilus file manager.
linex-edu: educational applications
Astronomy: kstars (desktop planetarium).
Geography: Kgeografía (geography learning program), Kworldclock (map of time zones), Sunclock (sun clock and time zones).
Languages: Khangman (game based on the familiar hangman), Klettres (application for learning the alphabet in a different language and reading simple syllables), Kmessedwords (game based on letter and word puzzles).
Children: memory game, Mr. Potato, Gcompris educational suite, Tux Paint, Tux Type.
Language: kverbos (application for learning verb forms in Spanish).
Maths: Kig (interactive geometry for KDE), kBruch (small program for generating fraction exercises), kmplot (application for creating mathematical functions), kpercentage (program for learning how to calculate percentages), Xabacus (simulation of the age-old calculator).
Music: Audacity (advanced audio editor), Grip (audio track reader/ripper), Rosegarden (musical composition and MIDI sequencer), Solfege (musical note identification program).
Chemistry: gperiodic (periodic table of the elements and information on them), kalzium (periodic table of the elements and information on them, in Spanish).
Others: FlashCard (application based on the traditional method of learning with flashcards, KEduca (application interactive tests based on forms), KTouch (application for learning to touch-type).