04 May 2008

Brazil, Free Software and "Castrated Windows"

Like many, I've been keeping my eye on the Brazilian computer market, since there seems to be a lot happening there in terms of free software. Details have been dribbling out here and there, but this is by far the best summary of the situation there:

Brazil imported the anti-Microsoft stance common in American geeks, but on top of the usual arguments Microsoft is foreign. This adds fuel to the flame. To the Brazilian Microsoft hater, not only there is an “evil monopoly”, but its profits are repatriated and its jobs are elsewhere. Practices like the 3-program limitation on Vista Starter further erode good will (Brazilians call it the “castrated Windows” among other colorful names). Add a dash of anti-American sentiment and you’ve got some serious resistance. This fiery mood has a strong influence, from the teenager hanging out in #hackers on Brasnet to IT departments to the federal government. Even in a rational self-interest analysis, one might rightly point out that if free/open source software (FOSS) were to wipe out Windows, negative effects on Brazil’s economy are likely minimal. The wealth, jobs, and opportunity created by Microsoft aren’t in Brazil (productivity gains might be, but that’s a whole different argument). The trade offs of a potential Linux/Google take over are different when there’s no national off-the-shelf software industry, plus Google’s revenue model works beautifully in a developing country. This mix of ideological and rational arguments torpedoes Microsoft’s support.


Now people in Brazil can actually develop interesting and widely used programs. We’ve got kernel hackers like Marcelo Tosatti, who maintained the 2.4 Linux kernel series, and Arnaldo Carvalho de Melo, who co-founded the Conectiva distribution. There are RedHat employees, Debian contributors, committers on various projects, and so on. Lua, the programming language, comes from Brazil. There’s a practical advantage in being able to, say, tune a distribution for a particular purpose (e.g., the distribution being delivered to public schools). But beyond that it’s inspiring to finally be able to work with talented people in cool projects and have a chance to participate, rather than be handed down a proprietary product built abroad over which you have zero control. People are excited about and grateful for this. By the time you mix up these elements nearly all talented CS students and alpha geeks are well into the Linux camp. Unlike the US, the dynamic economy isn’t there to add some fragmentation. When these people go on to make technology choices in government or industry, guess what they’ll pick?

Reminds me, I must brush up my Portuguese.


Anonymous said...

Tambien. p

The Mad Hatter said...

Brazil is an interesting country. Beautiful women, rain forest, and geeks.