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Brazzil - Techonology - April 2004

How Do You Say, 'Bye, Microsoft', in Brazil?

It's 'ciao, Microsoft' week for Brazilian public servants. Over 2,200
civil servants are in Brasília, Brazil's capital, for training in free
software The program's intention is turn the participants into
propagators of open source. The use of open source represents
annual savings of US$ 1.1 billion for the Brazilian government.

Mauricio Cardoso

Picture Free software is already a reality in Brazil's government institutions. Civil servants in federal, state, and municipal spheres are installing and managing administrative structures with platforms and applications based on open sources.

To give civil servants even better preparation, the First Week of Preparation and Training in Free Software was initiated at the University of the Post Office, in Brasília, on April 26. Over 2,200 civil servants are participating, free of charge, in 150 technical training courses that continue through April 30.

More than just provide training, the week is intended to expand the participants' familiarity with open software, turning them into propagators of the knowledge and technology related to open source platforms.

According to presidential Chief of Staff, Minister José Dirceu, who took part in the opening ceremony, the event is the fruit of a collective effort that began in the Electronic Government Executive Committee to disseminate the culture of free software, the universalization of information, and digital inclusion in the country.

"The challenge is to transform this tool into a concrete instrument for the improvement of public administration. Therefore, I ask all of you to pledge yourselves to pass along all the knowledge you acquire here."

According to the president of the National Institute of Information Technology (ITI), Sérgio Amadeu, mastery of free software can place Brazil among the world's major technological powers. For him, the option in favor of free software represents a cultural change, an option for a new development model and the use of collective intelligence.

"The Week of Preparation in Free Software is the beginning of a shift to a future that will surely be a free future," he declared.

Weaning off Microsoft

Free Software replaces proprietary software like Microsoft and Apple's operating systems and constitutes an open technology that enhances the integration and autonomy of information systems. For the government, this means reducing software costs and modernizing national information technology.

Free Software is a computer program that can be copied, distributed, used, and modified at will, representing savings, for example, for municipal governments that pay for licenses to use proprietary software installed in computers that use the Linux system and the Open Office program.

Software is one of the priority areas of the industrial policy announced by President Lula. According to information from the Secretariat of Logistics and Information Technology, in the Ministry of Planning, Brazil as a whole, between the government and the private sector, spends around US$ 1.1 billion annually on licenses for the use of proprietary software.

In the US, the space agency, NASA, and the Army already use free software in their information systems.

Software for the Blind

Brazil's Federal Data Processing Service (Serpro) is developing a software program called Open Screen that will convert written into spoken text. The program, which is especially designed for people with visual deficiencies to navigate on the Internet, will be distributed without charge.

Marcos Kinsky, a Serpro analyst, said that the software may be available by the end of 2005. Brazil has around 6 million people who are visually deficient, and this type of program will guarantee their social and digital inclusion, Kinsky added.

Helping Hand

Earlier this month, the National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) announced its first loan under the new Program for the Development of the National Software Industry and Related Services (Prosoft).

The Bank will make US$ 416 thousand available to the Powerlogic Consulting and Systems company, based in the municipality of Nova Lima, in the state of Minas Gerais. The company should use the loan to develop a new product line for the corporate site market, as well as to create networks of sales, support, and publicity channels.

The total value of the project, which is expected to take 24 months to be put in place, comes to US$ 728 thousand. The assistance from the BNDES represents 57 percent of this total.

Prosoft, created in 1997 to give backing to investments made by domestic software companies, was completely revamped to include "special rules that will allow the creation of conditions favoring commercialization and export of national software, important instruments for the consolidation of companies in the sector," informs a note from the BNDES board of directors.

Prosoft investments are projected to amount to US$ 34.6 million this year.

Mauricio Cardoso works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.

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