The Brazilian government wants to expand the use of free source software in
public service because it has lower costs and can be an important tool in
the effort to achieve digital inclusion (close the digital gap) and boost
According to Gustavo Noronha,
who coordinates informatics at Brazil's Ministry of Cities, a fifth of all
the ministry's computers now run Linux and other free source software and
all of them should be doing so by 2005.
The executive secretary
of the Presidential Staff, Swedenberger Barbosa, says that the government
is working on its Digital Inclusion Program (PBID) which has already got 58
government units using free source software and will use it to deliver computer
knowledge to low-income families.
The PBID has three structural
levels: so-called telecenters where free internet access is available, community
management of telecenters and the use of free source software in telecenters
to keep them economically viable.
The use of free source
software is central to the PBID. Besides lowering costs (licenses and royalties),
it gives users an incentive to develop their own technology and the country
has an opportunity to achieve independence in information technology.
Approximately 80 thousand
qualified professionals in the informatics sector are gathered at the 13th
IT (Information Technology) Brazil Comdex/Sucesu-SP 2004, which runs through
August 20 in São Paulo.
from 80 countries, including the United States, Spain, Singapore, Canada,
the Netherlands, South Korea, China, and Taiwan, are participating in the
event, which brings together exhibitors and buyers to do business.
The meeting also offers
an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with and discuss new technologies.
The IT Brazil Comdex is
one of the most important corporate encounters in the technology field in
Latin America, under the international aegis of Comdex, which holds similar
events in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
In Brazil the event is
co-sponsored by the Computer and Telecommunications Users Society (Sucesu).
The commercial director
of the IT Brazil Comdex, Marcus Faria, believes that more deals will be concluded
this year than in 2003. "Despite the recessive market we face, we are
optimistic that more business will be done than last year."
This year's fair occupies
an area of 47,000 square meters (505,903 square feet), with 420 exhibitors,
including 80 foreign exhibitors who seek partnerships in Brazil.
At this forum representatives
of IT and telecommunications industries are discussing the next Internet generation
(Internet Protocol - IP - version 6), to prepare the country for this new
Brazil is making a concentrated
effort to upgrade its computer industry. The effort seeks to generate more
jobs requiring more skills, improving commercial relations with the international
market and turning the sector trade deficit into a surplus.
According to Artur Nunes,
at the Ministry of Science and Technology's Informatics Policy secretariat,
Brazil remains a net importer of computer technology and pays US$ 1 billion
in royalties annually for software use.
The international software
market is worth US$ 257 billion annually. Brazil's presence in that market
is modest. In 2000, while India exported software worth US$ 4 billion, Brazil
exported a mere US$ 81 million.
Even so, today the sector
employs 180,000 skilled workers and has enormous skilled-job generating potential.
Nunes says there is a high level of excellence in Brazilian software programs,
citing the country's electronic voting system, and income tax declaration
collection, which takes place via Internet.
Annually some 20,000 students
in Brazil finish technical or university level courses in informatics.
Last November, Brazil's
Ministry of Science and Technology announced that it had set up a pioneer
work group with the objective of developing free software for use in the government.
This first group, consisting
of twenty employees who underwent special training, is part of a broad effort
by the Brazilian government to reduce costs by developing its own, free, software.
The project will reduce
costs of licensing and updating privately owned software, as well as strengthen
domestic Information Technology.
According to Paulo Sergio
Bonfim, who is a system development coordinator at the ministry, savings will
reach US$ 430 per workstation. As the ministry has 950 computers, that works
out to an economy of US$ 405.500.
The Minister of Culture,
Gilberto Gil, spoke recently about the theme, Digital Culture and Development,
in a welcoming lecture (aula magna) at the University of São
According to Gil, "digital
culture is a new concept stemming from the idea that the digital technologies
revolution is essentially cultural. What is implied here is that the use of
digital technologies modifies behaviors; full use of the internet and free
software creates fantastic possibilities for democratizing access to information
In the Minister's assessment,
Brazil already possesses vast experience in the field of free software and
digital inclusion, with hundreds of projects and even profound speculation
in academic circles.
Gil sees the issue of
free software, as well as the production and distribution of audiovisual materials,
as a matter of national sovereignty.
"It is preeminently
a cultural question and thus has to do with the projected nation we are constructing
and with the appreciation of cultural diversity, citizenship, and the generation
of income and jobs through creative and clean industries.
"Brazil has the opportunity
to undertake a massive national movement in favor of digital freedom and become
a world reference in the fight for free software."
The Minister affirmed
that his Ministry is making efforts to guarantee, in its policies, strategic
recognition of access to digital culture.
"We are developing
projects that offer the possibility of universal access to information and
knowledge through the full employment of telematic networks, such as the culture
points and the new libraries that are part of the Hunger for Books program."
Leonardo Stavale works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press
agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.
from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.