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|Brazil Leads the Way in the Free Software Movement|
|IPS News (Mario Osava)||Oct 25 2004||original|
|Posted by giova||Nov 01 2004 - 09:41|
|RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 25 (IPS) - Despite the challenges involved, Brazil is forging ahead with its decision to adopt free or open-source software throughout the country's massive public sector.|
|The shift from proprietary operating systems to open-source systems in government agencies will encompass close to 300,000 computers. Some believe this could lead the way to the predominance of open-source software in this country of close to 180 million people and to a major expansion in the national software industry, with considerable international repercussions. |
But in addition to the technical difficulties involved in undertaking this technological shift, Brazil will also face resistance from Microsoft and other big information technology (IT) transnationals.
The federal government's goal is for 30 percent of its computers to be operating with the new system by September 2005, in line with the plan formulated by the Committee for the Implementation of Free Software (CISL).
It is impossible to estimate the current number of computers that have already switched to open-source software, because the IT sector in the government is totally decentralised, and hybrid systems are commonly used, explained Ricardo Bimbo, the coordinator of the transfer plan.
"Perhaps five percent," he told IPS, adding that the proportion rises to 70 percent in the case of secure servers.
Bimbo described the plan as a complex process representing "a shift in paradigm and a breaking of monopolies," and one that faces both "technical and cultural resistance." As a result, the transfer will be slow and gradual, and there is no way of fixing a precise deadline for the total migration of the public sector.
There are several reasons for the switch to open-source software, noted Bimbo, an advisor to the National Institute of Information Technology (ITI), the government agency working to promote digital inclusion.
The first reason is "macroeconomic", he said. Brazil spent 1.1 billion dollars on royalties and licensing fees for imported software programs in 2002, a considerable jump in comparison with the 600 million dollars spent in 1999.
High costs like these are an obstacle to the country's digital inclusion efforts, aimed at extending the benefits of information and communication technology to the entire population. "For example, you can just imagine how much would have to be spent on royalties for the plan to computerise 100,000 schools, with 20 computers each," said Bimbo.
National security is another major consideration. In proprietary software systems, the programming codes are hidden from the users, who therefore have no way of determining if there are "backdoors" vulnerable to attack by viruses and hackers.
This is not a risk that the Brazilian government wants to take, and it explains why the armed forces have been particularly supportive of the shift to open-source software, explained Bimbo.
Technological autonomy and independence were also major considerations in the decision adopted by the government of left-leaning Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva. The use of proprietary software and operating systems in the public sector can lead to a dangerous dependency on private corporations, Bimbo said.
The Brazilian Ministry of Labour, for example, is currently caught up in a legal battle with the transnational IT company Unisys, which is threatening to cut off some of the services it provides in retaliation for the ministry's failure to pay part of the 30-million-dollar annual fees stipulated in their contract.
The Brazilian authorities argue that the company has not justified some of the expenses for which it is charging. They allege that the contract with Unisys is open to fraudulent activity because the government has no access to the underlying source codes, and this essentially gives the corporation ownership of official data banks.
Rodrigo Afonso, the IT director of the Brazilian Information Network for the Third Sector (RITS), told IPS that security and autonomy are much more important than saving money on royalties and copyright payments. RITS already uses open-source software for 80 percent of its services.
A survey of 15 Brazilian government agencies that have adopted free software revealed savings of 10 million dollars, with costs reduced to a mere three percent of what would have been paid for proprietary programs, according to the ITI.
But there is no way of calculating the unnecessary costs and potential for fraud that would result if the government remains "hostage" to the closed-source systems of private corporations, argued Afonso.
Yet another major factor behind the adoption of free software as a government policy is the freedom it allows in the sharing of information.
"The knowledge that grows and moves forward is knowledge that is shared," said Bimbo, while proprietary software "holds everyone prisoner." He pointed to the example of the Internet, the "worldwide web" of computers that would never have been possible if its underlying bases had been patented by a private company.
Unlike the hidden development codes of proprietary computer programs, open-source software codes are available to be used, modified and reproduced by anyone, and Afonso believes this will open the door for a boom in the Brazilian software development sector.
In his opinion, the Brazilian government chose to carry out this shift at an ideal time, when the Linux open-source operating system and compatible programs had been developed to the necessary degree for taking this step.
Although there are governments that are further advanced in the use of free software, like in Germany, Brazil can still be considered a "pioneer" in this area for having adopted it as a key focus of its information technology and digital inclusion policies, Bimbo concluded. (END/2004)