The Cuban Experiment

The news today is that USA-Cuban relations will return to something more like normal rather than cold war-era. It’s about time. The folks who annoyed USA to the point of madness are mostly dead or teetering on the brink. A whole new generation was being punished needlessly by sanctions for the sins of their fathers.

It hasn’t gone quite there yet, just exchanging prisoners and opening embassies in the near future, but the liklihood is that sooner or later the barriers to ordinary economic/social/political interaction will fall. This really ticks off some so-called “conservative” thinkers in USA but it raises interesting possibilities for me.

The Wintel monopoly could not latch onto Cuba for several reasons:

  • the cubans could not afford it
  • some PCs built by USAian OEMs could not legally be shipped there: HP, Dell?
  • M$ and others could not just open up an office in Havana and go to work…

That leaves Cuba as a somewhat pristine testing ground for the hypothesis that GNU/Linux is “good enough”. StatCounter shows Cubans use GNU/Linux ~6% of page-views. Will this increase or decrease if the embargo is officially lifted? Presumably, eventually, Cubans will be able to afford all kinds of IT. What will they choose? I expect the Chinese will sell/give them whatever they want. There are also some South American OEMs who can cater to their Spanish-language preferences. Will they order up Android/Linux smartphones and tablets or legacy PCs tied to Wintel or GNU/Linux? I would bet that Android/Linux will get their vote because they have no lock-in and Android/Linux is affordable. They may want servers and desktops too, but without lock-in, I would bet the share going to GNU/Linux will be relatively huge, especially considering they are already getting around 6% share of page-views by GNU/Linux. They have a lot of in-house expertise, something that has held back adoption in other places. I think anything over about 10% will unleash a flood of further adoption. It’s not like they are stuck at ~1%.

I expect reforms will allow wider access to IT and to the Internet so in a few years we should have the answer to this question. I don’t think Cubans are locked into Wintel-only applications, nor knowing only that other OS, nor thinking software costs $0, nor requiring compatibility with M$ in any way, so I am optimistic that GNU/Linux will get space on retail shelves, IT departments, and mindshare. It will be interesting to see whether or not global businesses can compete against friendly local operators who have been supplying contraband IT for decades. It will be interesting to see whether or not M$ can compete in a rapidly developing and tiny market. In a country dominated by ’56 Chevies (I’ve driven one…) a lot of market-shifts will come suddenly. I’d bet smaller and cheaper will appeal to this instant market.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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7 Responses to The Cuban Experiment

  1. ram says:

    I’m afraid the whole opening up relations with Cuba thing is meant to be a distraction from what is happening in Turkey and the USA’s positioning for war with Russia and China.

  2. Well… IMHO, market was never about choice but about the things the lobby power is able to push into people’s life as de-facto standar. I’m from Argentina, and here every pc you buy comes with windows pre-installed and “windows 8 compatible” UEFI motherboards, because of “the market”. With that in mind, i doubt GNU/Linux may have much chance if not for state regulation. Of course, this is when we speak about desktop; it’s a known fact that Microsoft is laughable in mobile and servers.

    If you’re right about “M$ can’t just go there and open an office”, i hope Cuba, provided by chinese tech, could be the starting point of the free software culture standar Latin America needs.

  3. IGnatius T Foobar wrote, “You really need to stop calling Linux “GNU/Linux.” You sound like a communist moron when you say that.”

    You really need to stop calling GNU/Linux “Linux”. You sound ignorant of the technology when you say that. Do you call your car a V-8? Doesn’t the overall package matter? Of course it does. That’s why you call Android/Linux Android and not Linux. Be consistent. You can’t call one by the model of the body and the other by the type of engine. What do you call the kids, “Frank, the second one with big ears, Joey with freckles, and the girl? I call mine by their proper names. GNU/Linux is properly called that because that’s what it is. The parts that make it one distro or another are tiny in comparison to those parts. Take Ubuntu GNU/Linux with it’s “Unity” interface. The GNU/Linux is practically the same as in Debian. The Unity part is just one layer of several: kernel/GNU utilities, X, display manager. Unity, itself, which is mostly what distinguishes Ubuntu from other GNU/Linux is just a few MB of code on top of the usual GNOMEish stuff out of the hundreds of MB of code in a minimal GNU/Linux system. I think GNU/Linux is more significant of what it is.

  4. dougman says:

    Cuba created its own OS called NOVA.

    “In 2009, the Cuban government launched a Linux computer operating system, known as Nova, in an effort to wean the country off Microsoft software, Reuters reported at the time.

    The trade embargo was making it difficult for Cubans to get Microsoft software legally, according to Reuters. The Cuban government also said the move would help protect the country from potential threats by U.S. agencies it claimed have access to Microsoft code.

    So the switch to Nova wasn’t just free, but it was also seen as a way to distance the country from the U.S.”

  5. DrLoser, looking at GDP per capita under embargoes, wrote, “I think we can assume that an embargo-free Cuba is not quite the “pristine testing ground” that you imagine.”

    I and many others believe GDP is likely to grow dramatically if the embargo is lifted/weakened. At the moment, Cuba is suffering from a cutback in Venezuelan oil. If they become able to buy cheap US oil, photovoltaics from China through increased tourism, they could have phenomenal economic growth in a few years. It’ll probably require another federal election at the rate “conservatives” are babbling on CNN, but I think it will happen soon after the next US federal election. USA being so much closer than most other wealthy countries is likely to supply the bulk of tourism in a few years while now they are just a sliver of “cultural/educational exchanges”. Just increased trade between Florida and Cuba could be enough. Then there are all those folks in colder parts of the northern states. Canadians regularly visit Cuba but USA is much closer, wealthier and more populous so the Canadian trade could be dwarfed. I expect M$ and “partners” to send/hire salesmen in Cuba but they won’t be operating in a monopoly as the rest of the world did back in the day. There will be space on retail shelves for GNU/Linux and tons of small cheap computers.

  6. DrLoser says:

    Interesting fact for you, Robert: in the <a href=""2013 CIA Factbook Purchasing Power Parity rankings, Cuba comes 118th of 228 at $10,200. China comes 121st at $9,800.

    Pending further evidence, I think we can assume that an embargo-free Cuba is not quite the “pristine testing ground” that you imagine. No doubt Chinese suppliers have been providing them with that “other 94%” for quite some time now.

    It’s certainly not as if a sizeable fraction of society couldn’t afford it. Unless, of course, the same applies to China itself.

  7. You really need to stop calling Linux “GNU/Linux.” You sound like a communist moron when you say that.

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