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"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

Arturo Esponosa and Red Escolar

By Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa
Originally published at OLinux

["Red Escolar" is Spanish for "school network". -Ed.]

Olinux: Tell about yourself: carrier, college, main jobs and positions, birth place?

Arturo Espinosa: Born in 14/11/76 in Mexico City. Started university studies in 1996 in the faculty of sciences, and changed to psychology last year (nothing fancy here).

This describes in a very general way my involvment with computers:

Arturo Espinosa Aldama forms part of the generation that was early exposed to 8-bit computers and BASIC programming. He has been either an amateur or professional programmer since, and a GNU/Linux user since he started his computer sciences studies at UNAM, the National University of Mexico. Having worked in several institutional systems for the university and the Red Escolar Linux project for the ministry of education, he now works for HelixCode, a leading Free Software development company.

Olinux: Describe your relationship with Miguel de Icaza? Did you work initially for Gnome project? Are there any relation between Red Escolar and Gnome?

Arturo Espinosa: Miguel de Icaza and I have been friends since I got to the faculty. I saw the GNOME project be born, and have participated in it since. Red Escolar takes advantage of the GNOME project, using it as a desktop and as a platform for some user administration software we wrote.

Olinux: How did you came up with Red Escolar? When did it start?

Arturo Espinosa: Red Escolar is a big project the Mexican government has been working on for three years now. There are some big challenges in the realization of its goals, and Red Escolar Linux, which is the project I worked for, solves some of these problems. I spent some 6 months investigating the way GNU/Linux could help Red Escolar to be a more successful project, looking at what there was available at the time and what would be needed to develop.

It all got started in October 1998 when my former boss, José Chacón saw that Linux could fit into Red Escolar and was looking for someone who could take the development challenge.

Olinux: Was there anybody else helping you?

Arturo Espinosa: I couldn't have made it without the alliances of José, the efforts of Miguel Ibarra, who was hired to develop from scratch a dynamic DNS administration service and the end-user user administrator. Walter Aprile, now the telecomunications director of Red Escolar, and also a Linux user, has supported us since the beginning, and has been a positive influence inside Red Escolar too. Obviously, we are also in debt with all the big bosses who have been patient with us and who have had enough vision not to pull the plug from us.

Olinux: What is the main objective of the project? How many volunteers are already involved? What were the main obstacles in the beginning?

Arturo Espinosa: The objective of Red Escolar Linux is to reduce operation costs and help with the technical difficulties that Red Escolar may have. As the guys from Red Escolar install computer labs with windows in the schools, and an Internet connection, we provide a lab server and remote service infrastructure that allows them to have one e-mail account per user, mannaged by the responsible of the lab: a teacher, to have all their windows machines connected to the Internet, through the server's modem, to immediatly publish documents through a lab web service, and so forth. ( We also offer a GNOME workstation, for maximum software cost reduction, but a dependency from the teachers to certain Windows-only multimedia CDs have made this impossible to accept.

We don't have any volunteers at this time.

The biggest difficulties at the beginning were to make the installation of the operating system completly automatic, and to gather all the configurations for the multiple services that get installed: we had to learn a lot of stuff.

Olinux: How many schools have joined the project? And how many users will be involved? Once a school decide to join Red Escolar, then what are the next steps?

Arturo Espinosa: Take a look at that in Red Escolar's web page: Redescolar. As for Red Escolar Linux, we have 7 interested states of the Mexican republic, and one of them is using it extensively.

Olinux: Did the Mexican Government support the ideas? How is Mexican government role? How Red Escolar is helping to transform Mexican Education system?

Arturo Espinosa: Te Mexican Government has been giving economic support since the beginning, and Red Escolar have been words of the president. I hope this vanguard project opens the world to a lot of people: the teachers in the project are in general enthusiastic, as far as I know. Please take a look at Red Escolar's web page for more info on this.

Olinux: What Open Source companies or organization are helping the project, donating money or helping with people? How do they do that?

Arturo Espinosa: seul/edu has us listed inside their projects, and their community has helped with ideas, and we are part of the emerging OFSET organization. None of them have provided with the kind of help you mention, and we didn't expect it, due to their nature.

In the case of OFSET, it is even the other way around: we are hosting them.

Some Free Software companies have shown proud that we use their distribution, but never communicated with us or sent any kind of resources, but that's stuff we never expected either: we got paid for our develpments, and our bosses were responsible of providing us whith what we may have needed.

Some Mexican GNU/Linux Users Groups have shown their interest in participating on the project, and we may take their offer for support in the future.

Olinux: Why did you choose Linux and FreeSoftware for the Red Escolar? Are there any default distro?

Arturo Espinosa: We have made our own distro, based on a mixture of RedHat 6.2 and 6.0 (the installer). GNU/Linux was not chosen for Red Escolar, as a general policy could dictate: it is an option that the technical people in the states of the republic decide to adopt.

Olinux: Was there any kind of resistance for using a Open Source Software in Mexico?

Arturo Espinosa: Yes, particulary from people from Intel that visited us, and other people who saw their initiatives kiss bye bye, given the acceptance of our project.

Olinux: What are the main software development being worked on these days? Any special distance learning software?

Arturo Espinosa: We include certain educational free software, but there isn't much out there. All the distance education stuff is done through the web and e-mail , so there's no need for Red Escolar to develop any in-house software of that kind.

Olinux: Tell us about infrastructure: how many servers were already installed? how do you manage to hook schools to the internet? how many labs have been installed and currently maintained? Are there any installFest or InstallDays?

Arturo Espinosa: There are lots of servers installed this days, but I couldn't tell how many. The Red Escolar and state government guys take care of all hardware infrastructure, so I think you would have to ask them. In general, they make special deals with ISP and phone companies for the Net access.

Olinux: Is there a site where people can get information about the Red Escolar Linux? Are you going to try to expand this idea to other countries?

Arturo Espinosa: redesc

The use in other countries goes beyond my responsability. I'm going to Brazil in September: they people form Rio Grande do Sul, where we gave a conference, want to adopt it, and I'm going to give them some training. This is free software: any government from any country is free to download, modify and use our CD, according to their local needs.

Olinux: In your words, what are the main achievements reached by the Red Escolar? Please, can you give us some numbers showing those results? Are you satisfied with it?

Arturo Espinosa: Red Escolar Linux made it all the way, in terms of development, and that's as far as my responsability went. The installation phase of our project is too young to show any numbers: sorry. I'm satisfied with my labour, and expect the Red Escolar people to really take advantage of the solution Miguel Ibarra and me brought up.

Olinux: What are your plans for 2000 concerning Red Escolar?

Arturo Espinosa: I'm transplanting any responsability on my side to the Red Escolar people, as I am now working for Helix Code. Brazil will probably be my last move related to this project. Greetings, Arturo.

Copyright © 2000, Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa
Published in Issue 57 of Linux Gazette, September 2000

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