BRAZILIAN President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been a stout supporter of free, government-sponsored software for the growing numbers of computer owners in his country of 133 million, the economic powerhouse of South America. He wants to elbow aside Microsoft, which has long monopolized the software end of the computer industry.
One of the goals is to save millions of dollars in royalties and licensing fees, so Mr. Da Silva has directed government ministries and state-run companies to gradually switch to a new system called PC Connectado or Connected PC.
The Brazilian system, hand-picked by the government, would, in a sense, turn the tables on Microsoft because buyers would not have the choice of buying instead a lower-cost operating system offered by Microsoft.
Well, fair enough, some people might say. Microsoft's commanding position in the computer world led to an antitrust suit against the company in the United States, so it not surprising that a nationalistic leader of a country hoping to improve its economic standing in the world might take on the giant computer firm.
However, Sergio Amadeu, president of Brazil's National Institute of Information Technology, said the free software system had to be part of the scheme to make it work.
"We're not going to spend taxpayers' money on a program so that Microsoft can further consolidate its monopoly."
The problem is that a government-sponsored and controlled computer could be used to control information just as authoritarian governments have done with the mass media, especially radio and television. The current Brazilian government does not appear to be trying to limit freedom of information, but a less democratic one might.
Furthermore, the whole issue is hardly meaningful to the large segment of Brazilian population that is more concerned with getting enough food and a potable water supply and decent homes. Much of Brazil is still a developing nation. The fact that the government is spending so much of its energy and resources developing free computer systems for the more affluent segment of the public which can afford to buy computers at prices of from $300 to $500 says a lot about the priorities of the da Silva government.
A more worthy goal for the Brazilian president would be to use low-cost systems in existence to provide access to safe drinking water for all the people of Brazil instead of the polluted sources many of them are forced to rely on now. Unfortunately, a jab at a giant American company plays better in a nation ambitious to expand its own power and export trade.