Brazil, a Stone in Microsoft’s Shoes

 Brazil, a Stone in Microsoft's 
  Shoes

Brazilian authorities have in several occasions praised the open-source operating system known as Linux. Linux is the best-known alternative to Microsoft’s Windows and Brazil is its poster child. Brazilian top technology officials talk about creating, in South America, a “continent of open source.”
by: Émerson Luís

Data from Brazil’s Education Ministry and IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística—Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) reveal that 10 years after the Internet became popular in the First World, 92 percent of all 180,000 public schools in Brazil have no access to the Internet. Worse yet, half of these don’t have even a telephone line.

In an effort to make up for lost time, the Brazilian government now wants to put in place a program that would democratize Internet and bring it to the masses in the schools. Strangely enough, a program created to spread the Internet throughout Brazil, the Fust (Fundo de Universalização dos Serviços de Comunicação—Fund for the Universalization of Communication Services) has money that hasn’t been used due to bureaucratic snags.

The main problem seems to be the price of the software, read Microsoft software. Pedro Jaime Ziller, the president of Anatel (Agência Nacional de Telecomunicações—Telecommunications National Agency) once again has stressed Lula’s administration’s position in favor of open source software.

Last year, the Brazilian federal government had already announced a three-year program in which 80 percent of all computers in state businesses and institutions would be required to use the open source operation system Linux in place of the present Windows.

At that time, the president of Brazil’s National Institute of Information Technology, Sérgio Amadeu da Silveira, talked about the government’s purpose: “The goal of the migration is to save money by finding alternatives to expensive proprietary licenses. We are not just going to do a hasty migration. Our main concern is the security and the trust of our citizens.” He also gave an inkling of possible hurdles ahead: “The biggest resistance to any change comes from the existing cultural inertia.”

Speaking at the opening of Telexpo, on March 2nd, in São Paulo, Ziller complained about the money Brazil has been spending with software: “Concerning user license alone, our country is bleeding at a rate of US$ 1 billion dollars a year. To keep insisting on training users in these systems will only contribute to make deeper the hole in which our foreign exchange has sunk.”

Brazilian authorities have in several occasions praised the open-source operating system known as Linux, a software whose code is available for free. Any programmer can customize the software to fit its own purposes. Linux is the best-known alternative to Microsoft’s Windows, an operating system that runs in the overwhelming majority of computers all over the world. Brazilian top technology officials have already talked about creating in South America, a “continent of open source.”

Fust, the federal fund created to spread communication technology throughout Brazil, has close to US$ 1 billion that never was used. The resources have been available since the previous administration, but the money cannot be used due to legal problems. Some people questioned Fust’s plan to setup most of the computers with Windows systems and took their case to Justice.

The Brazilian government plan is to bring in the next few years broadband Internet to 185,000 public schools, 63,000 health facilities and 5,000 public libraries across the country. Small town city halls would also benefit from the national program.

A recent article by BBC World Service estimated that open source systems will soon be working in up to one third of all computers in Latin America. Brazil is leading this trend towards Linuxation. And Linux has become a hit not only among government officials trying to survive with ever shrinking budgets, but also private schools and businesses.

Even favela children learning the rudiments of computing are being instructed in Linux powered boxes. An increasing xenophobic mentality mainly against the US is also contributing to the drive from Microsoft, seen as an American monopolistic juggernaut, to Linux and other open-source software.

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