Much attention has been paid to the business of Linux in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. As a result, names like Caldera, Red Hat, SuSE, and TurboLinux are well known. Rather fewer people, however, could name the company that currently claims to own 80% of the Latin American Linux distribution market. Conectiva, a Brasilian distributor, is running a high-profile booth at LinuxWorld in an attempt to raise awareness of its existence. LWN was able to have a talk with Conectiva CEO Sandro Nunes Henrique and learn a bit about what the company is up to.
Conectiva is not a small operation; it currently employs about 120 people in Brazil, and 200 worldwide. It has recently received some venture investments, and thinks an investment from "a large technology company" may also be in the works. Conectiva is a company on the rise - something that could be said about many of the exhibitors at LinuxWorld.
Their product is "Conectiva Linux," a distribution derived initially from Red Hat that has been localized for the Portuguese and Spanish-speaking world. Conectiva, however, places a great emphasis on its support and training operations as well. Each Conectiva box comes with 90 days of support; books and "Rivista do Linux" - a print magazine in Portuguese - are also among Conectiva's activities.
These products find a wide customer base. Money is tight in much of Brazil, and software piracy is rampant. So a product which simply can not be pirated is well received. The Brazilian government is trying to adopt open source software to the greatest extent possible; currently about 25% of Conectiva's sales are to government agencies. Other customers include banks, hospitals, educational institutions, and ISP's - including one with 75 POPs throughout Brazil.
Sandro estimates that about 80% of the Linux boxes sold in Latin America come from Conectiva. But in the service arena - support, training, etc. - they are "almost alone." Latin America is a fertile field indeed for an enterprising free software company.
Conectiva's plans are ambitious. There is an English-language version of the distribution coming soon, and offices in the U.S. as well. Conectiva is not interested in selling just boxes with localized distributions - where the distribution goes, local-language support and service operations must follow.
Conectiva's future distributions will be more targeted at specific applications. There will be an e-commerce version, which includes tools like Zope, Minivend, crypto goodies, and more. Also planned are a "graphical tools" distribution, one for developers, and a corporate ERP version which will include accounting, sales, and payroll packages.
There is also plans for a "university of free software" in Brazil, to be funded out of part of their venture stake. Promising Brazilian hackers will be able to spend some months learning free software systems and how to be part of the community. Not only will this program help people trying to get ahead in a difficult economy, it will also create a new crowd of free software hackers. Conectiva also donates a part of its profits to more general charitable endeavors, such as UNICEF.
In other words, Conectiva wants to be a force for good. And Sandro has not lost track of the other important things either: "We are more interested in having fun than being rich." They appear to be well on the way to both.