[Fsfe-ie] Brazil: Free Software's Biggest and Best Friend

Ian Clarke ian at locut.us
Tue Mar 29 12:23:40 CEST 2005

Right now who wants to bet that the CIA is working on a new version of 
its exploding Cuban cigar for this da Silva character :-)


On 29 Mar 2005, at 11:14, Teresa Hackett wrote:

> Brazil: Free Software's Biggest and Best Friend
> <http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=TODD 
> BENSON&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=TODD 
> BENSON&inline=nyt-per>  New York Times
> March 29, 2005
> S<http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/s.gif> ÃO PAULO, Brazil, 
> March 28 - Since taking office two years ago, President Luiz Inácio 
> Lula da Silva has turned Brazil into a tropical outpost of the free 
> software movement.
> Looking to save millions of dollars in royalties and licensing fees, 
> Mr. da Silva has instructed government ministries and state-run 
> companies to gradually switch from costly operating systems made by 
> Microsoft and others to free operating systems, like Linux. On Mr. da 
> Silva's watch, Brazil has also become the first country to require any 
> company or research institute that receives government financing to 
> develop software to license it as open-source, meaning the underlying 
> software code must be free to all.
> Now Brazil's government looks poised to take its free software 
> campaign to the masses. And once again Microsoft may end up on the 
> sidelines.
> By the end of April, the government plans to roll out a much 
> ballyhooed program called PC Conectado, or Connected PC, aimed at 
> helping millions of low-income Brazilians buy their first computers.
> And if the president's top technology adviser gets his way, the 
> program may end up offering computers with only free software, 
> including the operating system, handpicked by the government instead 
> of giving consumers the option of paying more for, say, a basic 
> edition of Microsoft Windows.
> "For this program to be viable, it has to be with free software," said 
> Sérgio Amadeu, president of Brazil's National Institute of Information 
> Technology, the agency that oversees the government's technology 
> initiatives. "We're not going to spend taxpayers' money on a program 
> so that Microsoft can further consolidate its monopoly. It's the 
> government's responsibility to ensure that there is competition, and 
> that means giving alternative software platforms a chance to prosper."
> Microsoft has offered to provide a simplified, discounted version of 
> Windows for the program. Though a final decision on which software to 
> install has been delayed several times, as has the program's rollout, 
> Mr. Amadeu and some other government officials have publicly 
> criticized Microsoft's proposal, calling the version's abilities too 
> limited.
> Still, Microsoft has not given up just yet. The company, which 
> declined to make an executive available for an interview, said in a 
> statement that it was still "working with the PC Conectado project to 
> see if there's a way Microsoft can help."
> Under the program, which is expected to offer tax incentives for 
> computer makers to cut prices and a generous payment plan for 
> consumers, the government hopes to offer desktops for around 1,400 
> reais ($509) or less. The machines will be comparable to those costing 
> almost twice that outside the program.
> Buyers will be able to pay in 24 installments of 50 to 60 reais, or 
> about $18 to $21.80 a month, an amount affordable for many working 
> poor. The country's top three fixed-line telephone companies - 
> Telefónica of Spain; Tele Norte Leste Participações, or Telemar; and 
> Brasil Telecom - have agreed to provide a dial-up Internet connection 
> to participants for 7.50 reais, or less than $3, a month, allowing 15 
> hours of Web surfing.
> The program aims at households and small-business owners earning three 
> to seven times the minimum monthly wage, or about $284 to $662. The 
> government says seven million qualify, and it hopes to reach a million 
> of them by year-end.
> That may seem ambitious in a developing country of 183 million people 
> where only 10 percent of all households have Internet access and just 
> 900,000 computers are sold legally each year. (Including black-market 
> sales, the number is closer to four million, still a small fraction of 
> the number sold in the United States last year, according to the 
> International Data Corporation, a technology research firm.)
> "We're well aware that we're talking about doubling the domestic 
> market for personal computers," said Cezar Alvarez, the presidential 
> aide in charge of the PC Conectado program. "But it's absolutely 
> feasible."
> Some analysts have questioned the effectiveness of such programs, 
> noting that some similar projects in Asia have become bogged down in 
> red tape and, in some cases, have ended up favoring the elite. In 
> Malaysia, for instance, the government is introducing a second 
> affordable-computer program after its first attempt failed because of 
> poor planning and fraud - something Brazilian officials say they are 
> working hard to prevent.
> Others say the government should focus its technology initiatives 
> elsewhere, especially in schools. Only 19 percent of Brazil's public 
> schools have computers.
> The government says it plans to complement the PC Conectado program 
> with stepped-up efforts to put more computers into schools. It is also 
> investing $74 million to open 1,000 community centers in poor 
> neighborhoods by year-end with computers that run free software 
> programs and offer free Internet access - supplementing similar 
> programs by local governments and nongovernmental organizations.
> The drive to bridge the digital divide has drawn widespread praise 
> throughout the technology industry. But the preference for open-source 
> software has been controversial, with critics inside and outside the 
> government saying Mr. da Silva's administration is letting leftist 
> ideology trump the laws of supply and demand.
> "The government shouldn't be the one who decides what hardware and 
> software will go into these computers," said Júlio Semeghini, a member 
> of Congress from the opposition Social Democratic Party. "That's 
> undemocratic."
> The open-source route, however, has support beyond the da Silva 
> administration. Walter Bender, the executive director of the Media Lab 
> at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose opinion was 
> solicited by the Brazilian government, replied in a recent letter that 
> "high-quality free software" has proved more effective in stimulating 
> computer use among the poor than scaled-down versions of proprietary 
> software.
> Though he said he did not oppose giving consumers a choice, he 
> concluded that "free software provides a basis for more widespread 
> access, more powerful uses and a much stronger platform for long-term 
> growth and development."
> Whatever the government decides, most industry analysts agree that the 
> program will probably help combat software piracy, which is widespread 
> in Brazil.
> And by wooing new consumers, "even if the program doesn't reach its 
> goals, it's going to end up stimulating the computer and software 
> markets," said Jorge Sukarie, president of the Brazilian Association 
> of Software Companies. "It's not perfect, but it's certainly better 
> than nothing."
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