In addition to these challenges -- which are faced by all school districts around the world -- the Brazilians faced unique infrastructure challenges. The deployments included remote schools in indigenous villages where infrastructure is minimal, electricity is unreliable, there is little physical space, and roads are impassable by car.
Userful, ThinNetworks, and the large system builders Positivo, Itautec, and Daruma came together to provide a low-cost, high-performance computing solution: one computer powering five independent workstations. Positivo, Itautec, and Daruma provided the PC's, and ThinNetworks provided the video cards, audio hubs and the heart of the project -- Userful software.
The Brazilian Ministry of Education chose the free Linux operating system as the platform, calculating the projected long term benefits this choice will bring to the Brazilian economy. With access to thousands of high quality software programs specifically suited to the management and education of K-12, teachers are easily tailoring curricula to individual students from a young age. Students are developing digital skills that will help them with their school work and prepare them for jobs in the future. Because there are no licensing fees or restrictions on open source software, students are also continuing to learn, explore and utilize software programs at home. This has allowed families to be more involved in their children's education.
On average, schools using Windows in Latin America have reported spending 40% of the value of their computer purchases on software licensing fees. Embracing Linux and open source software frees up this spending so that schools and ministries can provide more students with computer access for the same budget.
"Thanks to this project we will be able to provide information technology access to almost every single Brazilian student. It's only the beginning of a cycle for children, teenagers and adults that will be socially integrated from now on."
- Luiz Claudio Ferreira, ThinNetworks President
Virtually every Windows application has a free equivalent for Linux and because of the stable and secure design of Linux, less intervention by IT support staff is required to resolve virus issues and keep the computers running properly. Selecting Linux not only ensures lower deployment costs, but also sows the seeds for a future local ICT economy that isn't locked-in and dependent on a foreign monopoly.
35 million students in over 50,000 schools throughout Brazil are now enjoying 523,400 new computer stations, in what has become the largest digital inclusion project in the world. Compared to a traditional PC-per-seat solution, the Brazilian Ministry of Education is saving 60% in up-front costs, 80% in annual power savings, additional savings in ongoing administration and support costs, and five years down the road only 1/5th the number of computers will need to be upgraded. In many of these schools, the substantially reduced infrastructure requirements of Userful software made it possible to deploy these labs without upgrading wiring in the school, achieving even further savings over traditional approaches.
Greatly reducing technical costs has allowed for significant expansion of this project. Hundreds of thousands more desktops are being deployed with Userful in Brazilian schools. The success of this project has shown how even populous and geographically large countries like Brazil can create great and long-lasting positive results from well orchestrated digital inclusion initiatives. Other countries are following Brazil's lead and are taking advantage of Userful's ability to turn one computer into many.