June 10, 2003

Caribbean Centre for Monetary Studies sponsors Open Source Conference

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -
"The Caribbean Centre for Monetary Studies (CCMS) and the Trinidad and Tobago Linux Users Group (TTLUG) would like to inform you of the first ever local conference on Free, Libre and Open Source (FLOS) Software. The Conference will be held on the 26th and 27th of June 2003 at the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago." NewsForge will be there. Will you?

Interest in Open Source is accelerating at a fantastic rate in countries where the license fee for a single copy of the most-used proprietary operating system's server version exceeds a sysadmin's monthly earnings. Trinidad and Tobago (TnT) is one such country, even though unlike most Caribbean nations it has oil to export and, as a result, is financially healthier than most of its island neighbors.

Christopher Clarke of CCMS says the idea of a Caribbean FLOS conference began last November: "After the CCMS Economics Conference, our director suggested that it would be a good idea."

CCMS is a major Open Source user. Clarke says most commercial statistical analysis programs are beyond the group's financial reach, especially when they are being used in Web/online applications, which require additional (expensive) server and database licenses.

According to Clarke, the two major programs CCMS (and other economics researchers) have been using are Aramos and SAS.

CCMS has been replacing these packages with Free/free GNU R, QuantLib,and Python-numerics, along with commercial OxMetrics, which Clarke says is far less costly than Aramos or SAS and, he points out, "it runs on Linux."

It's not only cost that's driving the CCMS move to Free and Open Source Software. It's flexibility. Economics modeling software is typically modified like mad to meet particular situations, and being able to change literally anything in the underlying code is a major advantage.

Not only that, Clarke says, the administrative costs of tracking proprietary software licenses is a drain CCMS is eliminating by moving to Open Source software as much as possible, including OpenOffice on desktops.

Proprietary software sharing -- what some commercial software people call "piracy" -- is not common in TnT because the BSA has an aggressive office there. "They do a really good job scaring the populace," says Clarke.

Now CCMS, which is successfully using FOSS, is starting to spread the gospel to other organizations -- and companies -- not just in TnT but throughout the Caribbean, not only to help save on licensing fees paid to U.S. and European proprietary software producers, but also to help build a local software insdustry so that IT-talented people won't need to leave the islands to find work. (Clarke himself spent five years working in Europe.)

There is also the possibility of building at least a small export/outsourcing software industry in the Carribean. Clarke says there are several firms in TnT and Barbados that develop Web sites for companies in other parts of the world, but that's about it right now.

But most projected FOSS uses in the Caribbean are for local business, not for export, and Clarke hopes to get conference support from IBM and 'proprietary-but-Linux-boosting' Oracle, among others.

There is plenty of evangelism to do here. Clarke estimates that on the Open Source front, TnT "is about three years behind." At this point, he says, "Most of Trinidad is a big Microsoft shop. A couple of the larger firms use Solaris, and some are now converting to Linux...."

Part of the reason there is so little FOSS use in the Carribean, Clarke believes, is that hardly anyone knows it exists.

This conference will, hopefully, help change that situation. The speaker lineup looks interesting, anyway -- except perhaps for the first guy on the list...

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