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Monday, July 11, 2005

Brazil: the hearth of FOSS

I wrote a couple of pieces on the global wave of legislation which is inducing government-owned agencies and companies, to use FOSS except when proprietary software is the only option. This wave is primarily seen in Europe and developing countries. Some of the reasons behind this phenomenon are obvious (such as cost savings) and some are more subtle. Some experts believe there is a clear desire to break free from the U.S.' lock on the global software market/industry. Analysts say concerns about autonomy and national security are likely to drive passage of more laws discouraging use of proprietary software. Proponents of this wave like to call it "software libre" to describe software that is not only free but whose development is not controlled by a single organization/company.

One of the first developing countries to clearly stand behind OSS was Brazil. For the last five years Brazil’s government lead by President Lula is abandoning proprietary software (mainly Windows) in favor of OSS. Sergio Amadeu who runs the National Institute for Information Technology estimates a $500 saving in software for every machine owned/operated by the government which saves Brazil overall $150M a year. These savings allow Lula's government to sponsor new machines as well as recycled machines and distribute them in the favelas (very poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of Sao Paulo and Rio).

The trend could be troubling to software giants like Microsoft, which has eyed the proliferation of open-source software nervously despite the fact that it still controls about 90% of the planet's desktops. Earlier this year Bill Gates tried to meet with President Lula privately at the World Economic Forum in Davos but he was unsuccessful. Following this, Microsoft released a stripped down (cheaper) version of Windows XP in Brazil

Finally last month FISL (stands for Fórum Internacional do Software Livre) 6.0 took place in Porto Alegre Brazil with prestigious sponsors and speakers. Thousands of enthusiasts got together to discuss how OSS could help them build their country. More on this by Bloomberg.

It's also refreshing to see that Iraq is also taking advantage of OSS. BBC reported that Linux user groups are being created with hundreds of members.

Finally I would like to reiterate for those who read my blog for the first time that I am not an anti-Microsoft or an anti-proprietary/commercial software guy. We all have to make a living. I support OSS because I believe it forces software vendors to innovate and constantly add value. Also I am intrigued by the collaborative and distributed aspects of OSS which inspire and influence the development processes of several commercial vendors. More importantly, I like OSS because it allows some developing countries who cannot afford to pay Microsoft $500 per machine to get the ball rolling and provide computer and internet access for the disadvantaged.


  • Brazil like many developing countries focuses on technology to solve some of their most troubling societal problems. One example of it is found in this article, where it is citied that computers are being recycled and placed in the Favelas. For those of you who have never seem a favela, a computer is the last thing they need.
    In several of the favelas around my home (I live in Sao Paulo city), they steal electricity by making illegal connections to power lines. Those connections are locally known as “gatos” or cats in English. It is common to hear of a person every now and then getting electrocuted when trying to make those gatos, or of a fire that has broken out because of a bad connection.
    The overwhelming majority of houses do not have a sewer system, the waste is dumped directly into the streets. Leading to the spread of diseases to the local inhabitants.
    Finally most people living in those places have to put up with the lack of law enforcement that leads to the proliferation of crime in the form of gangs and drug trafficking. In the city of Rio, the situation has become so out of control, that the federal government has organized a special unit designed to infiltrate the favelas to deal with the crime lords living there.
    It is sad that my country focuses so much on the technology. Computers will not do anything to better the “favelados” or people that live in the favelas' lives.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:03 PM  

  • I am not sure who you are but I certainly appreciate your comment. Thanks for participating!

    By Blogger Omar Tazi, at 7:16 PM  

  • To Anonymous:

    It amazes me how many people say this - 'the poor do not need computers'. It's incredibly short-sighted. Computers are not a luxury, they are about access to communications and media, which are the foundations of political and economic power - ie, how you *get* the sewers fixed.

    My brother lives and works as a social worker in a favela in the state of Rio and I have visited him several times, the last in January of this year (we went to the FSM in Porto Alegre). His computer and Internet connection are a lifeline - far more useful than the phone service in an emergency, and also much cheaper via instant message chat and VOIP for long-distance communication. Same reason cellphones are so popular in Brazil right now - they're easier to get than landlines, and often cheaper.

    Add that to the fact that if you grow up in a favela, you need a route out - job skills you can take elsewhere. Computers are one thing you can study with little more than a power jack and shared Ethernet feed. They don't actually take that much in terms of resources, and the payoff can be immense.

    Yes, the Internet is not a magic bullet. It needs to be part of a managed education and development infrastructure. But to just dismiss the use of technology training in these kind of downscale urban environments strikes me as amazingly naive.

    By Anonymous Nate Cull, at 7:46 PM  

  • I have to say I completely agree with Nate, I am from Morocco and I am always amazed to see that everyone carries a cell phone before owning landlines (too hard to get in some areas) and I am also astounded when I see that some villages in Morocco have internet access when water is not necessarily available to everyone. It's a window on the world for these people and they definitely need it.

    By Blogger Omar Tazi, at 8:16 PM  

  • Nate,

    I wouldn't say that the poor wouldn't need a computer. A computer is very important, I don't deny this, but the poor who live in the favelas need, in the first place, many other things which come first, like food, education , health, good conditions to live, they need clothes and, of course, after they have conditions to live with some dignity, they need a computer. Could you please tell which favela have you been? (sorry my bad English). People who live in favelas are not only poor, but they live in misery, which is much worse. I live in Rio de Janeiro and I can tell you about this.

    But what worries me more is to know that what one government does the next always never continues, which means that when Lula (Brazillian President) leaves, the next president (most of the times) will not necessarily continue this same program, to continue supporting the adoption of free and open source programs. That is what worries me more... I hope the next president will continue to do this, but I think it will be difficult. Well, let's hope for the next president to continue to support the adoption of FLOSS.

    By Anonymous Andre M., at 5:01 AM  

  • Sorry, Folks.

    I agree with Nate. For sure, many people don't have food, a decent house to live, but in the other hand, they published a research and proved that there more obese people than starving ones, and there are a lot of favelas in Sao Paulo where people own cable TV, microwave, 29" TVs, latest sound systems and so on. So, a computer is something they are interested on.
    The main problem in Brazil as in many developing countries is EDUCATION. All first world countries know that education is the key for a better society.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:50 AM  

  • The article speaks one mistakes in this excerpt: "One of the first developing countries to clearly stand behind OSS was Brazil. For the last _five_ years Brazil’s government lead by President Lula is abandoning proprietary software (mainly Windows) in favor of OSS."

    Explain: The actual legally elected government in Brasil have less than _three_ years on power and is a declared oposition of the previous government. This government was elected in 2002 and assumed the official obligations on 2003/1/1; on the other hand the community that supports "software liVre" in Brasil is more old than five years, one of the samples of this community is the enterprise Conectiva that was bought last year by Mandrake Software.

    The federal actions of popularization of technoly don't aims just on the "favelas", aims on all population directly(giving ways of train work force on the favelas to use basic tecnologies) or indirectly(reducing the crime rate cause with the trainning on the use of technlogy is more affordable get a job than without the trainning, cause in Brasil to 'upgrade' the empresarial surplus is utilised all the technology that is possibly obtain). Is neccessary make clear that the computers don't are give to the people, but to instituitions or social organizations or official government management staff that offers the access to these machines and the trainnings.
    I will like to receive comments about this comment o my email zoeirapura(at)

    By Anonymous zoeirapura, at 10:31 AM  

  • I'm from Brazil and i'd like to congratulate for the excellent article!
    I agree that only computers will not help the people whom live in a slum as some of the people who wrote here but it's a first step.
    Like we used to say here:
    "If each of us make a little thing in the end a lot of little thing togheter will be a lot"
    One of the most important thing is that the schools can teach and introduce this fantastic world of computers to the poor ones.
    Linux is a reallty to the companies too. I work for a huge group of companies we have more than 40 servers and most of them are running Linux, some are runnig Solaris and only one Windows 2000 Server( and we're moving in this year to Linux ).
    The money we saved with licences and stuff we are returning it to social projects. It's a way to show how the OSS can help the people, society and the country!

    Every single step is important!

    Quotation from Lao-Tzu (604BC-531BC)
    "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
    Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu


    By Blogger Gustavo, at 3:23 PM  

  • Your article was translated to Portuguese at
    I would like to know if I could use it as part of textbook on Business Portuguese. It would be used for discussion and understanding of language. Thank you, Debora Ferreira (

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