Open Source In Brazil

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Brazil: Free Software's Biggest and Best Friend

SÃO 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.

My initial reactions are two-fold. First, I wonder if this is something akin to cell phone usage in developing countries. Since the cost of landlines and maintenance plus the wait time to get one from the government are all so high, cell phones are quickly becoming commonplace in areas that hadn't had phones of any kind. Is free software for computers going to make computer access spread more rapidly than if these people and places all had to pay license fees to Microsoft, Apple, or whomever?

Secondly, there's a difference between someone knowingly contributing to the open-source stock of code, and someone being forced to give over innovations to it. Perhaps since the companies and institutes that are developing software with the suppose of government aid would have otherwise seen their products become owned by the state the open-source licensing regulation isn't necessarily an impediment to advance. If that's not the case, though, and these companies were simply getting support without the expectation that their work would be forfeit, I'd worry that declaring it all open-source upon creation will stifle some of the work. Without the ability to retain rights and thus make some sort of return, the incentive to produce may be dampened.

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Ugh. I just don't get Linux. I was there in the early days (1996), getting it to work on my PC. 5 days after I put it on, I reformatted and put on Windows. There weren't any applications back then.

Even today, even as an engineer, I don't think the applications justify switching. Yes, there are Office ripoffs, and lots of engineering programs work on it. But it is just easier to go with the MS flow than waste your time coming up to speed on a new, less user friendly (if there can be such a thing!) OS.

And what does Windows cost anyway? I've seen it for about $90 bucks. Even in Brazil that isn't a lot of money.

In many ways, this is not any different than what happened in Latin America in the 20th Century. At the turn of the last century, Argentina and other Latin American countries were some of the wealthiest on earth. They were well integrated into the world economy, capitalistic, and prosperous for the time.

Shortly thereafter, they went down the statist, protectionist road. They threw up roadblocks to trade on the theory that domestic industries would develop faster as a result.

And what happened? Economic stagnation.

Mandating Linux is very similar, and will have similar results.


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This page contains a single entry by published on March 29, 2005 11:22 AM.

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