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Horst JENS
Horst JENS
is self-employed and teaches Python open source game programming for children in Vienna. Derek BREEN
Derek BREEN
is writing awesome programming booksamazon and currently travels the world creating computer programming curriculums and tv-shows. Pavel FROLOV
Pavel FROLOV, Free Software entrepreneur and Linuxformat.ru publisher.

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Episode 005 of the international open podcast: Horst JENS meets Derek BREEN in Moscow at the international education fair Moscow 2016 and gets a chance to speak with Pavel FROLOV, editor of Linux Format magazine Russia.

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Horst JENS, Pavel FROLOV, Derek BREEN
Horst, Pavel, Derek at international education fair Moscow, 15 April 2016. See complete Album

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technical note: This podcast is glued togehter out of several interviews, not in chronological order. The Pavel Interview transcript is authorized by Pavel FROLOV himself and edited by Elena Tolstyakova.

  • 0:00:00 intro (Horst)
  • 0:00:16 Moscow, first day: Horst and Derek chatting about Derek's live in Moscow and his areas of work for Russian education TV, Scratch workshops etc.
  • 0:01:00 Derek referencing our trip to Maker Fair Rome 2015
  • 0:01:45 What Derek does in Moscow
  • 0:51:48 Moscow, last day: Horst and Derek chatting about the international education fair Moscow, his talk about teaching with open source, wild speculation why russian ladys are so beautiful, Soviet arcarde game Museum and Horst's impression about Moscow
  • 1:36:05 Interview: Pavel asking Horst about the situation of FOSS (free and open source Software) in Austria. Warning: loud background noise!
  • 2:09:13 Inverview: Horst asking Pavel about situation of FOSS in Russia, especially goverments and schools. See full transcript below: Warning: loude background noise at the start, less background noise later

full transcript of Horst's interview with Pavel about FOSS Russia:


H: This is international open podcast issue 5, part II, I'm Horst JENS, next to me sits Derek BREEN and...
P: Pavel FROLOV. I'm the general director of GNU LINUX Center and the publisher of LINUX FORMAT RUSSIA magazine.
H: impressed Wow! Pavel, you work a lot with promoting and making possible Free Open Source Software (FOSS) education for Russian schools.
P: Yes.
H: Can you say how did you come to this line of business? What was the reason you got into this area?
P: About 15 years ago, we held an internet shop with CDs and DVDs with software. We found out (that there was) high demand of CDs with Linux and FreeBSD operation systems. The demand was so huge that we decided to do a separate project, so we established an internet shop named Linuxcenter.ru and we made an offer that you can order Linux CDs and we will send them to you by mail. This was a very big business for us for several years.
H: So you had a mail-order Linux distro distribution service...
P: Yeah.
H: What is Linuxcenter.ru doing now, what is the main activity?
P: The next step of our developement was publishing books and some educational materials. Then we started to publish a Linux magazine. We do that since 2005. Last year was the tenth year of Linux Format Russia magazine. Then we started to provide services for the governement, for customers and for business customers. Consulting, migration, development based on FOSS systems.
H: So you are selling know-how and expertise.
P: And developers' work also! Now, the Linux distribution bussines is not doing good because everyone can download everything, but we do some services and solutions like FOSS hardware and software bundles. Like robotic kits, internet radio boxes, internet security like firewalls and so on, ... And solutions for internet TV and internet radio.
H: I will follow up with some generic questions regarding the FOSS situation in Russia, I hope they are not offensive, because of little wisdom (about Russia) from Austria...
First question: What is the situation about FOSS, specially Linux, in Russia. Historically, I had the impression that the need (for FOSS) was not so big some years ago because you can for next-to-nothing get a pirated version of Windows and there would have been no American law firms that could harm you for doing that (illegal copying), so there was not so much need for having Linux because you can basically have a Windows copy for free. What is the truth?
P: The GNU/Linux and FreeBSD operation systems are really popular on web servers for more than 15 years. Totally dominating. Also total domination (of FOSS) on supercomputers - not only in Russia, all over the world. They (FOSS systems) almost kill(ed) the marked for (non-free) operation systems. As for desktops, I think we have now one or two percents of desktops that are using Linux. That's if we do not factor in the Android devices. Android is very popular on the mobile phones and on tablets. Also very many people (are) using OpenOffice, FireFox, ...
H: So on top of a proprietary OS they use FOSS Software.
P: Yes. Also Google Chrome, Blender and so on... So we have several organisations... using FOSS Systems (Software). For example, [a huge chain of] food stores. We have one named Magnit (Magnet), it's one of the largest vendors, maybe worldwide top 5, they have over five thousands of stores, and they use Open Source.
H: The question was about how the Russian government is reacting toward FOSS.
P: The Russian government is very hard to understand... because it's 25 ministries and several secretaries... minister of finances, minister of transport, minister of communication and so on. And of course the ministry of finance and [or] transportation does not know anything about free software.
But in fact we have our prime minister, Dmitriy MEDVEDEV, and he is very good at understanding of FOSS and Linux. I don't know if it's true for 100% but I have heard that he tried to install different [various] Linux distributions on his laptop by himself.
H: impressed That is a story in itself, he must be the first prime minister worldwide to do so...
P: He was president of Russia and he was personally responsible for the modernisation of the education system in Russia and also for installing Linux operation system in Russian schools.
H: So, every Russian school has now a Linux operation system?
P: No. It was a plan, but this plan failed. There was a pilot project in three regions. Russia is a huge country, so each region is as big as a European country. The regions were: Perm Region, Tatarstan, and Tomsk Region. The plan was to (implement in these regions) migrating all schools toward Linux. There were many methological and educational materials developed to help teachers to migrate. There was a big program of improving qualification of teachers to use FOSS in schools. It (the program) was not very good because of (lack of) time - [the program was being made in hurry]: They tried to do it very fast and it was a kind of mistake. It would have been better to do this kind of project in three years, but they tried to do it in one year, so the quality of education was bad. They tried to make education for ten or twenty thousands teachers - how to use FOSS. Then they sent CDs with Linux to each school in Russia and said: "OK, you can use it". And then they said that the Russian government will not give money anymore to the schools for buying software. So the (schools) have now two options: They can ask the regional government to pay for sofware, for example, from Microsoft, or they can use free software. Some regions bought licenses from Microsoft but Microsoft had to lower the prices... very low. Ten times lower than before, for the whole region, because in other case...
H: So they (regions) used FOSS as leverage to get lower prices from Microsoft?
P: Some regions, yes. Some regions are going to use FOSS. There are several regions that've made a decision to get rid of Microsoft.
H: They are still using Linux?
P: Yes. Also, this process moved things (forward) in little steps, many teachers have now heard about Linux, so some teachers and enthusiasts and early adopters are now using Linux, there are whole schools in different regions which are using GNU/Linux.
This beautiful girl coming to you and asking who you are is the government member of St. Petersburg. She has etablished the whole group of FOSS users in St. Petersburg. They do conferences twice a year and share experience and invite companies whose business is doing service in Open Source. In St. Petersburg, we have about 700 schools. Of those, 100-200 are using Linux and free and open source. There was also one guy with moustaches, he is the vice director of one school which is the pilot school of St. Petersburg, using FOSS in every aspect of teaching (Geography, English and so on) and they made methodological papers. Other schools share this papers so that other schools can learn from their experience.
I'm sure this not only one case, so (I think) it's kind of the first project of using Linux and Open source, like throwing seeds everywhere and some seeds... are now growing. I think this process will grow. But now, no one is speeding it up and no one is helping. It's a kind of plant that is growing (all) by itself. In the jungle. So, this is the situation in schools.
In the government, the situation is quite the same. We have federal government structures. Different ministries, different agencies. About sixty or eighty organisations. About six years ago, the (Russian) government made a plan of total migrations toward FOSS for all federal ministries. Our group was involved into this plan. In our first version of this idea it was a 3-year plan. Then they said this is too fast [to adopt], we need a 5-year plan or even more time. It was a very good plan [The plan was very good anyway]. There was a very strange situation because buerocrats decided not to do anything. There was this plan, signed by (president) PUTIN, but almost anyone in federal structures decided to not migrate to FOSS. There was one organisation doing everything for this plan, it's the Федеральная служба судебных приставов - Russian Federal Service of Bailiffs. There are services of officers who takes [withdraw] debts from the people. Some kind of a department of police.
H: Finance police?
P: No.
P: It's if someone is owing money...
D: Like the U.S. internal revenue service. Collect taxes.
P: Maybe. They collect penalties.
H: An important branch of the government?
P: Yes. They do everything. They do their own Linux distribution, they make certifications for security, they make education and they have about 50,000 computers and servers. They migrated all servers and 10 thousands computers.
D: Wow!
P: This is [Such was] the situation in fall [autumn] of 2015, it's maybe more by now. They do everything and share their solution with other ministries. Now every ministry, every local government of a region can take this Linux. The name is GOS Linux, where GOS means government. It's government[al] Linux, everyone can download it from the government's [web]site and use it for migrating. So this is a very good [use] case.
H: But that is only one branch of government? Not all branches of government are using it?
P: Other structures of the government are using (FOSS) servers or OpenOffice but this total migration like it was described in the big plan, only one organisation of the government did it. We are trying to find out why this's happened. We found out the key issue here is education. If the people who were told to migrate does not know anything about Linux, anything about free software, if they have no images in their mind (about FOSS) and only use Windows, then it's almost impossible for this people to do something with Linux. You need to re-educate them.
H: Do you know from any cities or towns who made the complete switch toward Linux?
P: Yes. There are several cities in Russia who made the migration toward Linux and FOSS.
H: And that worked?
P: Yes. Everything was good.
H: Can you give one example of such a city?
P: Example... In the Primorskiy Region, near Vladivostok, there is a small city [town] named Chernigovka, they made a complete migration (toward FOSS) seven years ago.
H: And do you think they will continue of doing that (using FOSS) or do you think that with the next shift of government they will change back (to Windows)?
P: It depends on the chief. I know very big projects of migration, for example (organisation of) [Federal Fund of] social insurance, it's about 25,000 computers, and they made total migration toward OpenOffice and the free software on several servers, and they made their own databases and FOSS engines. They do this for 5 years. It was a very sucessfull project. Then, their chief officer goes to another work and then a new chief officer comes and says: "What are you doing here? Where is my Microsoft Office? Where is my Oracle Database?"
H: laughs This seems to be an international problem... I know this same story from my country and from several countries...
H: Do you know something of the military? I suppose the Russian military is one of the few militaries in the world not using happily Microsoft Software...
P: Yes. The military has several Linux distributions, self developed.
H: Those are not used by the civilian branches of government?
P: They have the option of selling several distributions to the government too, but those are not very cheap, it's an expensive solution.
H: Can I also ask: What do you think about the level of education, especially of computer science education in Russia, in view of a global playing field? Do you think Russian engineers are competitive against American, or Indian, or Chinese...
P: If you ask about coding, I think that Indian coders can be more competitive because India has more people. About a billion people in India and only 140 millions in Russia. But if you ask about software architects and some big-minded people, the key issue here is mathematics. Mathematic education in high schools and secondary schools in Russia is very good. Some universities have the best mathematical educational programs [curriculums] in the world and our mathematicians are very good. These guys win very often world[wide] mathematical Olympic games. They are really cool. If you look carefully into American companies like Microsoft, or Intel, you may find many Russians doing programming. They do many jobs - important jobs. If you talk about simple coding, then, our guys are not so cool like other countries'. Because plain coding is boring. And Russians do not like boring tasks.
H: laughs
P: If you need to solve unsolved problems, call a Russian guy.
P: If you need to code for 5 years [following the] instructions coming from the head office, a Russian guy will fail at this. Another difference in education is different roles, not in computer science but in computer bussiness. In computer business we need to have good marketing, we need to [have] really good understand[ing] which market sector we want to target for our solution, and we need to have very good usability. We need to have very good focusing on local markets, because in different countries you have different demand on the functions, usability, and even service. Our education system now is not good in this [these areas]. We have different projects in the education system, like in the Innopolis [=Innovation City] University in Kazan, Tatarstan Region, we are going to build - we've already built this big university to teach computer science. So to find out how to teach these (topics), we need to send people to learn and take experiences of the good and large universities of the world, good at this, for example, Carnegie-Mellon. We sent our ambassadors [envoys] to Carnegie-Mellon, and they studied there and later came back and teached the Russian students the things they had studied. But we have a gap here: Very good mathematicians but not very good marketing people, not good UX designers, and not good coders because coding is more about the discipline than about creativity. You just need to do some tasks in good methodology, like SCRUM or AGILE or ... We [in Russia] have a strong outsourcing company, one of the top 100 world-largest software companies, they have thousands of employees who do many things both in coding and in creating new solutions for many customers, even for the government of your country. Some projects in medicine or so. Many times, you can find a situation when a big project is being done by a company from Russia with two or three thousand programmers who have know-how to do everything right. They studied this for about twenty years. They are really good... in everything.
H: What is your opinion on the level of internet infrastructure in Russia? Is there a big difference between [urban] centers like Moscow / St. Petersburg and the rural areas? Or can you say that you have equally good quality of teachers, internet connection and universities across the country?
P: The Russian government, and it was also Dmitriy Medvedev who was responsible for that, spent a lot of time, money and resources to make sure that every school of Russia has very good internet connection. Now, nearly every place has also good internet connection. But we have several villages that are located very far away from big cities, far from the big transport pipes [thoroughfares]. We have also 3G and 4G Internet. For example for my phone all over Russia I can have internet connection ranging from 10 to 80 MBps. In my phone. It's very fast.
H: So you say you have good internet connection, apart from some small villages who are hard to reach.
P: Everyone who wants to have good internet connection can have it. It's not much expensive.
D: Yes, it's so much less expensive then in the USA!
P: I pay for my phone internet connection about 4 US$ per month.
D: Fantastic.
H: And every school has good internet connection, every university?
P: Yes. Except for some small villages, but the government is giving money, the idea is that everyone should have good internet connection in Russia.
H: What is your opinion about the attractivity of the economy of Russia? For good educated coders and mathematicians, as you said before, lot of those Russian educated mathematicians are ending up working in America, in Silicon Valley companies, do you think the Russian economy is attractive enough to hold enough good educated people? Or do you basically invest in them (their education) and then they leave the country?
P: I know some people who come back from USA, now they live in Russia. And the other way around. It's free migration from country to country. The most... bad thing in Russia now is the climate. The most complaining, to discuss with people. "Oh, I get sick in winter, so much rain, I like to move somewhere warmer where the sun is shining every day". This, very often, is a reason to migrate. In terms of money or security, the situation is quite the same. In terms of kind of startups, in the USA it's a lot harder to go into the market, there are a lot of patents, it's very expensive... it's hard. In terms of ability [opportunities], in Russia now you have more abilities [opportunities] than in other countries. There are now lot of peoples living in sunny countries but they earn money in Russia. They go to Russia for (taking) the salaries (only). Then they go back to their families in the sunny countries.
H: Final question, what is your opinion about mandatory coding in schools? Like little Estonia I think made a curriculum that every thirteen-year-old need to learn coding, in the school. They learn to code in school, everyone. Do you have some regions in Russia...
P: In Russia, everyone learns to code in schools, too.
H: Really? What age?
P: Yes. About 12 or 14 years old.
H: So this is for every child in Russia?
P: Yes. But the problem is, they are teaching Pascal. So we need to change this to teaching Scratch first, for example, and then C++. Because Pascal is now useless. And there is a big problem with school kids graduating from school: "Do you know programming? - Yes! - Which language? - Pascal" laughs.
D: It also makes me suspect that the curriculum would be a very old-model of a curriculum if they still teach focusing on Pascal. Using lessons from the 1980? Since when was this program set in place that all students learn to code?
P: They started (teaching) coding for one hour per week, and it lasted for several years, about since 5 years.
D: How long have the schools been that consistent with coding? I sounds like Russia is way ahead of most of the western world, were a lot of countries, including the USA, are just starting to make coding a requirement.
P: I don't know. I can not predict this. I hope it will last forever! It's the right thing, to study programming in school.
H: A personal question, do you think the FOSS movement in Russia is strong enough to survive a government shift, let say some other prime minister says "We don't have money for that, we don't want to support free software anymore, you have to use this or that version of Windows"?
P: In fact, money for supporting FOSS movement were not spent. Only a small amount of money was spent on this, and FOSS development was independent of government support. This means that they develop slowly, sometimes there are problems and developers leave to do something else. But also the FOSS movement is very strong, because it developed without support, so it will be very hard to stop.
H: So you think it's strong enough?
P: It is strong enough, but really small. It could be much more big. But maybe that would be a bad solution too because if the (developers) think every time he wants money someone will come and give him money they would become weak. As it is now, our Free and Open Source guys are really cool. It's a kind of digital JEDIS of the future.
H: One extra question: Do you see an ecosphere of independent hackerspaces, makerspaces, little startups, students' projects growing out of the universities? Or is this hard for political and other reasons?
P: This is a very funny questions: Because this movements are really supported by the government. The (government) spends a huge amount of money to open Fablabs.
H: Let me repeat it: The Russian government is paying to open Fablabs and hackerspaces?
P: Yeah. They pay for.
H: I'm speechless.
D: He wants to move to Russia now!
P: They spent money to open 200 new Fablabs during the last 4 years. In Moscow, we have more than 20 Fablabs now. In each district of Moscow, kids can come for free into Fablab and find 3d printers, digital fabrication machines like laser cutters and so on. The Russian government is working very hard to activate creativity of kids to make them innovative, to fund startups. It's a big government program and they don't seem to stop this.
H: Cool! And how is it, if students want to make their own thing. Do they get into difficulties like having hard time to find a space to rent, allowance?
P: We have also Independent Hackerspaces.
H: They are not discriminated? This is really cool. From all that, I hear that you are looking very optimistic into the future of Russia, as a free software producing country. Is that true?
P: Yes.
H: Do you already feel that you are attracting programmers and nerds from other countries?
P: Only Derek (BREEN).
D: laughs
H: laughs
P: laughs. But some guys are attracted for Innopolis. It offers some grants for professors to come there and hold Computer science works. And I think some guys are attracted for Skolkovo [innovation center].
H: Thanks a lot for this interview! I'd like us to see each other again. до свидания!
P: Auf Wiedersehen!

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