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Requiring Software Freedom 356

An Anonymous Coward writes: "CNET is carrying a story about the increasing momentum that Open Source software and 'Software Libre' are gaining in Latin and South America and Europe. A certain company from Redmond WA USA is mentioned several times in the article as the impetus to free foreign governments from certain onerous licensing agreements (not to mention the cost savings involved). It is interesting that some of these governmental entities are actually requiring the use of Software Libre, not just encouraging it. Maybe it's time to visit Rio?"
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Requiring Software Freedom

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  • Microsoft..... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by crumbz ( 41803 )
    .... makes the vast majority of their ca$h from US and Western Europe. I wouldn't be suprised if they are doing this as a PR move. It could be used to bolster their US case, i.e. look how we are helping the 3rd world, etc.
    • You mean just like how the tobacco industry has moved to "help" Asia and third world countries? Nothing plucks my heartstrings more than those touching Philip Morris ads where they're sending Kraft Mac and Cheese to wartorn countries.

      Nothing like Microsoft modernization to make an underdeveloped country want to to back to rocks and sticks.

  • If there is something that both the FSF and I agree upon, it is that the production of software needs to be justified in terms of benefit to society. This presents a certain amount of difficulty. Benefit to society is a slippery concept and not an easily measurable quantity -- unlike tractor production. In addition, since Adam Smith, the best means of deriving that benefit are not necessarily direct. Which brings me to the subject of economics.

    Before starting any discussion of economics, I need to pin down what I mean by ``benefit to society''. Underlying the attitude of this essay is the belief that a computer is just a machine, and the benefit of a machine is derived from its use to do things. From this point of view, the main benefit to society that software brings is that it allows users to run programs to do things that they regard as useful or entertaining. There is a clear economic component to this attitude: benefit to society can be regarded as the production of programs that users want to use. This benefit is hedged about usual common-sense provisions, of course; it's hard to argue that virus production is of benefit to anyone other than security experts.

    An alternate view regards computers as ends in themselves. I'm someone who enjoys theoretical computer science and also enjoys tinkering with my systems for the pure love of it. So this view is something that I espouse in deed, if not in word. This point of view is of benefit to society in the same way that science, art or literature is; it expands our horizons and makes us mentally richer and more cultured human beings. This view is perfectly reasonable -- I also think that it is a view underlying many of the attitudes of the FSF. However, in terms of wider benefit to society, it is likely to be eclipsed by the purely utilitarian considerations of the economic viewpoint.
  • by rkent ( 73434 ) <rkent@pos[ ]arvard.edu ['t.h' in gap]> on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @01:39PM (#2230843)
    Waitaminnit -- The operating system we all know and love is gaining a following in South America, with the ensuing increase in demand for programmers familiar with that OS (us!) in beautiful, inexpensive beach locations with scantily clad people everywhere?

    No way. It must be april fool's day.

    Whoo hoo!

  • by Whyte Wolf ( 149388 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @01:39PM (#2230844) Homepage
    What I find most interesting about this Software Libre idea as proposed by some of the legaslative bodies involved is their definition of it. They seem to want to avoid the "Open Source vs. Free Software" rhetoric that we've been seeing recently--but even more interestingly, it seems that they're combining the two key factors the Free Software and Open Source communities expouse:

    Firstly, the freedom to do what you will with the software. Who wants their government's (and by extension their) rights to use software restricted by a multi-national headquartered in another country?

    And Secondly, the price is right. I'd rather see my tax dollars go towards quality software and support, -and- other services, than into MS's pocket for proprietary software that doesn't work (anyone remember Russia's lost nuclear materials? thanks MS SQLServer.)

    • Mod me as a troll, but that's what I'm replying to. What if I said:

      GNULinux based solutions just don't work. Just look at /., it's had more downtime than win3.1 recently. Apache/Perl/MySQL has been screwing up so often.

      Of course, most of us are smart enough to know that a new codebase is going to be error prone, and /.'s difficulties have nothing to do with the rock-solid stability of Apache. Same as the Russian situation with MSSQL sever. But, alas, it was M$ bashing, so the post got modded up.

      If MS's "proprietary software" doesn't work, why are there many successful technological solutions working wonderfully (source: personal and anecdotal evidence)?
      • The issue here has everything to do with the security implementations of giving up control to a) a single company b) based in a foreign country c) with a well-documented history of blatantly corrupt behavior. I don't think it's unreasonable to point this out; the reason it "doesn't work" in this context is because these governments are placing far too much trust in a technology source they can neither afford nor rely on to hold their best interests at heart.

  • by GreyPoopon ( 411036 ) <gpoopon@ g m a il.com> on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @01:39PM (#2230847)
    Based on the somewhat limited success (so far) of the DOJ's case against Microsoft, this is a pretty predictable happening. Maybe other countries in the world are doing this for different reasons, but I can't help but think they've factored the prospect of Microsoft getting more out of control than now and inestimable licensing costs. Unless the leverage Microsoft uses from its monopoly on desktop Operating Systems is somehow broken, many countries will have no choice but to go this route.

    I wonder what true effects this will have on the quality and quantity of free software.

    • I agree to this I'm against splitting of microsoft, in my opinion is a split somthing they would benefit most of in a long termed view, something they don't have deserved :o)

      If than they shall fall as a one whole giant slob :o)

      Image /.er's would have to hate suddendly 3 different companies and which does what good and evil, one 'personality' gives a far more easier world view.
    • I think one interesting effect could be the creation of government contractors who produce free software: the government pays to have the software they need created, with the requirement that the result be released as free software, or the rights given to the government.
    • The DOJ case and monopoly arguments are completely independent of why these governments are pursuing free software.

      They are pursuing free software solely because of the costs (in terms of $, not speech) associated with the other kind.

      Don't automatically assume that just because the word Microsoft is mentioned it has something to do with the DOJ case. Try reading the articles sometimes.
  • by seanmeister ( 156224 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @01:40PM (#2230858)
    I'm not looking to troll or start a flamewar here (I use Free software every day), but if one is required by law to use Free software, doesn't that represent a loss of freedom? Isn't freedom of choice important as well?
    • Not for government agencies. Anyway, as the MS proponents are so fond of saying, nobody's _forcing_ you to use free software, you just wont be able to communicate with anyone else with those .doc files anymore. Oh, and those taxes should be filed with GnuCash. Heh.
    • While you do have a point, I think there is a general gain of freedom in that you at least can know everything about, and even contribute directly to, the software that you use, even if you are compelled to use it.

    • There is no loss of freedom with these kinds of bills; the governments are just saying that the governments should use free software, not that the citizenry has to.

      It's like Kmart mandating the use of Windows 2000 in its operations.

    • You completely missed the point. No one is requiring by law that anyone use Free Software. What they're requiring is that taxpayer money only be spent on Free Software. It's a way of making sure that taxpayers get the most for their money. It's anti-pork.
    • Yeah, thats some dangerous rhetoric there. Does the dress code at your work infringe your freedom to show up naked, or does it protect the freedom of your co-workers not to have to see your wang?

      See what I'm sayin'?
    • I'm not looking to troll

      It seems you're not looking at the article either. :)

      From the first paragraph of the article:

      A recent global wave of legislation is compelling government agencies, and in some cases government-owned companies, to use open-source or free software unless proprietary software is the only feasible option.

      And further on in the article:

      The cradle of the new wave of laws mandating free software appears to be Brazil, where four cities--Amparo, Solonopole, Ribeirao Pires and Recife--have passed laws giving preference to or requiring the use of "software libre." Other municipalities, states and the national government have mulled similar legislation....

      Elsewhere around the globe, Florence in June passed a motion mandating the use of "software libero" when feasible. A handful of smaller Italian municipalities, including Pavia, have passed similar motions. This isn't about restricting the freedom of an individual to use whatever software they want. It is about government setting policies for its agencies, just like any company is free to dictate what software is used within the company.

      Interestingly RMS has this to say about the recent wave of new laws:

      Activists and programmers, while they welcome the free-software-only initiatives, say they're holding out for more sweeping legal protections for their work.

      "These laws are not the kind of help we most ask for from governments," said Stallman. "What we ask is that they not interfere with us with things like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, with software patents, with prohibitions on reverse engineering that enable companies like Microsoft to make proprietary data formats and prohibit our work. Those are the main obstacles to satisfying the software needs of humanity."

      It seems that he partially agrees with you. At least this isn't something that he is actively pushing for. All he wants is the freedom to produce software. Seems reasonable, doesn't it?

    • I kind of agree with that, and by extension with Microsoft's point on this: you should use the best tool for the job. I would be satisfied to see open source software/free software get an equal shot at government contracts, with preference given to no one. I'm not sure how absolutely prohibiting Microsoft is good for anyone; I'd like to think that open source/free software can win on its own merits more often than not.

      This assumes a level playing field without any under-the-table kickbacks from Microsoft, and disregards questions of whether you want to run your country's government on a foreign company's software, of course. National security would be one good reason that I could see for instituting a total ban on foreign software, at least in sensitive parts of the government.

    • You make an excellent point, but at the same time ignore an important one.

      Citizens aren't being required to use Open Source. Only the government is. It's still a bit of a stretch though. What I would rather see is to add certain items to the standard governmental procurement checklists:

      • Source code is available
      • Software can be modified by user
      • Software (modified or not) can be deployed/distributed without paying additional license fees

      But your point is still well taken. So many people are caught up in the FSF rhetoric that they would enslave people in order to free them. The four freedoms listed by the FSF are wonderful. But they are not the primary freedoms in a person's life. Freedom to choose what software you want to use ranks higher. To limit that choice in the name of freedom is hypocrisy.

    • (aside from the details of the legislation: proprietary software is okay if no free alternative exists; it only applies to govt agencies)

      This legislation isn't trying to promote freedom. It's trying to save money and reduce the influence of foriegn corporations. The idea is that it's bad for the country for the government to depend on the private sector for vital services.

      Consider if some company held a patent on anti-counterfeiting techniques that you used in making your cash. If they felt like it, they could cancel your license, and you couldn't print any new cash. Clearly this would not be good for your economy. In general, it's a bad idea for governements to use anything that locks them in to a single vendor; best is if the government owns everything it needs to switch vendors whenever it wants.

      The US wants to have emergency oil reserves, and these countries want to have the source and rights to the software they depend on.
    • but if one is required by law to use Free software

      Daft boy. The only requirement is on the government to use free and open software. Open software should also be a requirement when dealing with high security and classified data. How guarantee the security if you can't even audit the code?

      Tax payers, or their representatives, are telling the government not to waste their money. For example, many governments have requirements that all sizeable purchases must open for public bidding.

      I can very easily see that M.S would lose a lot of business if agencies started following their own rules.

      Each citizen is free to buy software from M.S, or toilet seats of gold. However, taxpayers have every right to limit what the government should spend money on.

    • if one is required by law to use Free software, doesn't that represent a loss of freedom? Isn't freedom of choice important as well?
      I agree. Sort of. In an ideal world, I would prefer laws that would require that spending money on software be justified over free alternatives, not that it be banned (if there are free alternatives). In reality, I like seeing Microsoft getting poked in the nose.
  • by tapiwa ( 52055 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @01:40PM (#2230860) Homepage
    Arica as well is fast becoming Linux Country.

    A combination of a fair amount of old hardware still in use, and the expense of software... typical licence (Win 9x) costs more than the minimum monthly wage.

    Compound this with the fact that there are many enterprising minds in Africa... and you have a team of hackers to rival any in the 'First World1

  • C'mon, give up! We all know there is no viable business model in running a foreign country!

    Or at least that's what Steve Balmer might say. ;)

    On a more serious note, woohoo. This is exactly what we need .. nations entrenched in capitalism forget that domestic development must almost always be sparked by the government. This is hard to do for many governments, since they have little money to begin with. Anything that saves money for governments in these types of countries is good, as they can turn around and use the money they saved to spurn domestic market development and growth. (At least somewhat .. unfortunately, one of the goals of all these free trade talks are to prevent countries from being able to award contracts to domestic companies preferrentially in order to encourage growth in the domestic economy.)
    • Re:Good! (Score:2, Funny)

      by rgmoore ( 133276 )
      C'mon, give up! We all know there is no viable business model in running a foreign country!

      Now this is obviously not true. Everyone knows that running a foreign country is a very profitable business, so long as you take the following steps:

      • Give fat government contracts to your friends and relatives
      • Give important contracts (i.e. ones that actually must produce results) to the company that offers you the largest kickback
      • Embezzle heavily
      • Stash proceeds in a Swiss/Cayman Islands bank account
      • Hotfoot it out of the country one step ahead of the revolution

      By following these simple steps you can make running a country a very profitable line of work. Do be sure, though, not to miss that all important last step.

  • Back in the 1920's or so, United States companies used the US Marines to crush worker rebellions and strongarm countries for profits. This is where the term banana republic comes from. Anyway, everyone keep an eye out for Microsoft hiring a mercenary army away from Shell Oil or something... or convincing investors that open-source software isn't as secure as M$ software, and they shouldn't invest in countries that don't use M$, the prefered OS of the Free World!.

    Totally off topic but informative rant by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.

    "War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

    I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

    I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

    There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

    It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

    I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

    I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

    During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents. "
  • Second Post! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kaiwen ( 123401 )
    [This is the closest I've ever come to FP]

    Here in Taiwan, I don't think cost is as much of a factor, given the high rate of Windows piracy (even, I suspect, in government offices). As an example, when I recently went shopping for a new home system, I explained to the sales critters that I didn't want Windows, because I was planning on loading Linux and didn't want to pay the Microsoft tax. The response was always the same: You might as well take it, since it's FREE! Not a single store I visited loaded legal copies of Windows, for the simple reason that razor thin profit margins don't allow it.

    Add to that the Chinese mindset which doesn't quite grasp Western concepts of intellectual property: the attitude here is that if I purchased (not 'licensed', Western-style EULAs not withstanding) a Windows CD, it's mine to do with as I wish -- including installing it on every machine in the office. You can begin to understand why Windows piracy rates in China are estimated at 95% or higher.

    Lee Kai Wen
    Taiwan, ROC
    • the attitude here is that if I purchased (not 'licensed', Western-style EULAs not withstanding) a Windows CD, it's mine to do with as I wish -- including installing it on every machine in the office

      Even when there are no IP laws to worry about, pirating windows is STILL not enough, especially for institutions with specialized needs, like government entities. How are you going to modify windows to suit your needs? You can't, because there's no source code. That's why Free software is the perfect choice for governments: you can pretty much alter it for your needs to any degree with minimal costs, AND you can make damn sure there are no nasty backdoors for those American imperialist agents to spy on you.
      • >How are you going to modify windows to suit
        >your needs? You can't, because there's no
        >source code.

        I wonder why this situation hasn't driven the innovation of better, simpler ways of dealing with object code. Rather than throw up our hands in despair, claiming "it can't be done!",
        why aren't we doing it?

    • It's probably moot, anyway; considering the Brazilian attitude toward American patents and copyrights (which isn't "ignore them" per se like China and Taiwan, but is more like "legislate them out of existence), Windows will probably be Free Software there by the time this is over.
      • ...considering the Brazilian attitude toward American patents and copyrights (which isn't "ignore them" per se like China and Taiwan, but is more like "legislate them out of existence

        Brazilian laws are valid only in Brazil. If Americans don't want their inventions to be used in the rest of the world, they should keep them secret. There's no reason why American laws should be valid all over the world where American products are sold. Just imagine if the Nepalese laws on marijuana consumption were valid in any place where Nepalese marijuana was consumed...

        Anyhow, check what the USA Constitution says about copyrights and patents:

        Article I, section 8 - "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"

        If the marketing conditions imposed by drug companies go against the promotion of the progress of Science, it's only right that they lose their monopoly.

        • Nowhere did I say I disagreed with the Brazilian stance; I was merely commenting upon it's implications vis a vis the question of Microsoft's place after they pass their "Software Libre" law.

          For the record, I think the founding fathers are doing 100,000 RPMs in their graves over the travesty that US patent, trademark, and copyright law have become.
    • the attitude here is that if I purchased (not 'licensed', Western-style EULAs not withstanding) a Windows CD, it's mine to do with as I wish

      That's my attitude as well, and I've been fully grounded in Western culture for more than three decades. That attitude is why I am attracted to Open Source, and why I feel that some Open Source and Free Software licenses miss the boat.

      The copy of the software that I have aquired legally is mine (whether through purchase or legal download). I have zero rights to anyone else's copies, but mine is mine and damn you if you tell me what I can or cannot do with it.

      I should be able to give away my boxed set of Windows without having to ask permission. I should be able to install it on my desktop *and* on my laptop without having to buy another copy. I should be able to dissect, decompile and reverse engineer it. I should be able to make as many archival copies as I require. If that's not the way Microsoft wants it, then they should never have *sold* me a copy. They should have leased the copy instead. But they did not. They placed a box on the store shelf for sale, and I purchased it, and the US Commercial Code says that even if I don't own the IP to the contents, I do own the physical CD and the particular instance of the information recorded on it.

      Free Software developers sometimes makes the same mistakes that they think they own your copy of the code. I picked up a copy of Kylix Open [sic] Edition yesterday at LWCE. It's my copy. I should be able to do anything with it without having to ask the author for permission. Yet I am legally forbidden to use Kylix to create an MIT or MPL licensed application. Simply because they chose to use the GPL instead of the LGPL for their runtime.
  • They'll start switching over to something else.

    A couple years ago I was a sys admin for a congressional office. We had installed a new web-based version of our CMS software. It was buggy as well, half of it because of IE's instability and unwillingness to integrate with WordPerfect and the other half because of the poor programming. It was frustrating to use and we sent numerous bug reports to the company to no avail. Other offices were having the same problem.

    When did the House start taking action against said company? Not long after the House Leadership bought the software, the House tech side finally started making legal noises and fixes finally got made.

    So when Dennis Hastert's office or Tom Daschle's office starts getting really fucked over by MS, they'll switch to something else, change the tech guidelines and soon the rest of the House and Senate will follow.
  • Hmm...I've never thought of it like this before. Micros~2's relationship with many governments is a lot like OPEC is to the US. The US is heavily dependant on OPEC for petrolium, and OPEC could wreak havoc on our economy and our ability to defend ourselves. Micros~3 could essentially do the same things to a foreign power, and it would take weeks for a nation to recover if Micros~4 decided to cancel services to a nation. The upcoming technologies Micros~5 wants to deploy would make this even easier. Think about it...
    • One little difference (that does not invalidate your point) is that unlike the US other nations can't invade Redmond. OPEC cuts us off and Venezuela (the closest OPEC member state) will suffer an invasion that will make the Wermacht blitzkrieg look positively sluggish. Brazil has no leverage with Microsoft at all, the US has the leverage of massive force when dealing with OPEC.

  • Now that the tech industry has declined and much of the recent boom has been shown to have been based on overinflated expectations and pure bullshit, it will be more difficult for proprietary software advocates to argue that the economy is driven by software sales. (Of course, that notion was laughable from the outset, but there's no use in shouting over the gold rush.) This is therefore an excellent time to push for adoption of free software by businesses and governments.

    There is a sense in which software drives the economy: good software makes it possible for people to do more work and therefore be more productive. Commercial software and free software alike contribute to productivity, but only free software does so without imposing burdensome licensing costs which drain profits and therefore reduce the amount of liquid assets available for reinvestment. One wonders what the Fortune 500 could have accomplished with the billions they've paid Microsoft in recent years if they'd had that money to spend on new business ventures.
  • From the article "We're supporting the position that the decision by government to acquire technology should be based on the benefits and value of that technology and not on limiting those possibilities."

    Do a cost/benefit analysis of Microsoft Server software vs Linux. Doe any else think Microsoft has shot themselves in the foot with this statement?

  • Can't afford it? Don't worry, the first one's on me...

    After all, that's the business model for software, isn't it? (shareware, etc) I am not saying Microsoft is evil -- they are doing what is good business for them, and to someone who does not have money, that may *seem* evil. But... it's not. It's just the capitalist economy at work, folks...

    So... I think these countries are smart... They see the large hook in the eventual future... IT doesn't have to be just Microsoft -- it can be any first-rate, high-priced software company. If you bite now, you will be hooked in and be forced to pay high license costs forever... It's a good business decision -- if you don't have money, it's much better to use free software. If you really want to make it a point, you make it a law.

    Honestly speaking, Linux and other free software works just fine. Give 3 complete newbies 3 different boxes (Mac, Win, Linux)... I've found that they adapt just as quickly/slowly, and the bundled software on each platform works quite well for all of them. (the only time you get messed up is in opening Win stuff on other platforms, but that's really not anyone's fault but M$) Forcing free software on a country is a rather interesting tactic, but it sure seems a lot better than being locked down to an expensive license contract -- especially if I don't have money to begin with...
  • What would any non-US, non-Western European country have to gain by respecting the intellectual property 'rights' of the US or Western Europe? Brazil deciding to ignore the patent on certain AIDS drugs is just the beginning of their realization that they have almost nothing to lose.

    I'm surprised that Italy didn't just announce that Microsoft's copyrights were no good there.

    • Whoops... I guess Italy *is* part of Western Europe. In place of Western Europe above, use Germany, Benelux, Switzerland, France and half-weight the UK.
    • Yes, I agree more is coming, and the Brazil patent announcement was an exciting move. I think it's likely that the various competing forces in modern intellectual property rights will be forced to work out their differences in this context, rather than in the music context where it's currently the hot topic. Face it, no government on earth, no matter how democratic, really cares whether its citizens have the right to share music or movies, copy them from one device to another, etc. It sounds too much like "free as in beer" to them. But governments do have an interest in ensuring that they, and their citizens, are not unduly beholden to a foreign power, including MS or an AIDS drug maker, and they have no trouble understanding that this equates with "free as in speech."

      I think we're seeing the leading edge of an international movement to reject the USA copyright-patent paradigm wherever important national interests are at stake. It's mostly coming on to the global policy makers' radar screens now through China's attempt to join the WTO, because US interests are pressing China to crack down on mass-market software copying and fall in step with the US copyright paradigm. But the China stuff is like the MP3 stuff - Chinese computer makers are copying en masse because it's free beer and helps their profit margins, not for some national interest. Heck, they don't even HAVE free speech in China, so they're in a poor position to couch this as a human rights issue for global concerns to rally around.

      But once you get a critical mass of Brazils publicly and officially declaring that US patents are fine for the US, but not fine where they hurt our citizens, you gotta believe some serious powwows among the diplomats and international-law-and-treaty types are going to occur. I think it's especially likely given that the current US administration's profligate rejection of international agreements has weakened its ties with allies. Same influence is created by the open-source policies which are the main topic here - they pressure the US on copyright the way Brazil's pharmaceutical decision pressures it on patent. And the bargaining positions of the world's Brazils is going to be this: "USA, either you overhaul your intellectual property rules so that they cut us more slack, and let your corporate citizens settle for a smaller share, or we will not enforce those rules in our country, and your corporate citizens will not get any share at all." Those modifications will bleed over into domestic law, and that, my friends, is the beginning of the end for the DMCA and like schemes. Overreaching leaves even a great power vulnerable - this is in Sun Tzu's Art of War, I think.

      (yes, I'm from the USA, but I voted for the other guys.)
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @01:51PM (#2230940) Homepage Journal
    LA countries are moving quickly into the double whammy of currency crises and recession. Argentina and Brazil represent huge ecnomic problems. What better reason to not export cash out of the country on increasingly poor terms, eg. dollars when local currency is dropping like a stone. So the natural consequence is to look for ways to keep the money in-country and if possible, not spend it at all. This way LA countries can not only save cash but can help prop up local employment by breeding a cadre of support personnel.
  • Maybe it's time to visit Rio?

    Don't assume that better policy in one area necessarily [hrw.org] translates into better [amnesty.org] policies in all other areas [umn.edu].

    Rio's murder rate is 61 per 100,000. That's ten times as high as the United States in general, and more than twice as high as Flint, Michigan, which is widely regarded as one of those places that normal human beings just don't voluntarily enter.
  • The Free Software movement?

    That is Free as in "you're forced to use our software by our free and open government"?

    Come on, it's not free if there is a law that says you have to do it. Being forced to use Open Source over M$ smacks of the Floyd song "Sheep":

    "Have you heard the news?
    The dogs are dead!
    You better stay home
    And do as you're told
    Get out of the road if you want to grow old."

    • Not quite right; the governments are just saying that the governments should use free software, not that the citizenry has to. It's like Walmart mandating the use of Windows 2000 on its systems.
      • It's still wrong. Mandating every department of a huge government to use the same software, Microsoft of OSS, is the wrong thing to do.

        I hate Microsoft products, but sometimes the best solution to a particular problem might be best solved on a Windows program. Ellimating any tool from the toolbox, whether it be MacOS, Windows, BeOS, or whatever, is the wrong thing to do.

        It also is anti-free competiton. If OSS doesn't have competition and a reason to make things better, it will produce bad software just like the Wintel monopoly.

        OSS and governments should take a many problems/many solution approach, not a monolithic "we're best for everything" approach like Microsoft.
        • Is it somehow better when they mandate the use of Windows? Because they've done that in the past as well.

          Organizations need consistency in oreder to work smoothly and allow efficient support of their systems. Organizations routinely mandate a specific profile for the systems they will be using, whether it be all-Microsoft, IBM kit and kaboodle, mixed systems, all-Unix, or whatever.

          What's wrong with a government making a policy decision to give preference to free software rather than give preference to commercial software? These governments had previously given preference to commercial, primarily Microsoft, software; were you complaining about the situation then?
  • by beanerspace ( 443710 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @01:58PM (#2230989) Homepage
    While one cannot pooh-pooh the vast economical savings of using 'alternative' operating systems to mickysoft's, I suspect that some of the reasons may also be cultural.

    Certainly, one can buy the version of the MickySoft OS product. However, with Linux, one can alter it so it not only speaks one's language, but so it reflects the way one is raised to think ... which may not always be left-to-right, top-to-bottom, red-white-n-blue the way God intended it, US of A type approach.

    Another thought is that it could be attractive because it is easier to get talent from a variety of people in a variety of countries, without all the hassle of regulation that encumbers even the most generous employer (especially here in the U.S.).

    It may also have to do with the fact, and I'll need some help from you foreigner types, that us Americans want our individual PC's on our individual desks in our individiual cubicles as opposed to some X thingie who's processor ias a II instead of a III after it (unless of course you are a geek god, who is then granted a IV from the pointy heads in those aquarium like offices).
    • I suspect that some of the reasons may also be cultural.

      It's funny how people all around the world hate being screwed and desire freedom. Nothing is so helpless as an NT user or admin.

  • by mcfiddish ( 35360 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @02:07PM (#2231045)
    "Technology should compete on its merits in a free market."

    Gosh, he won't last long at Microsoft thinking like that :)

    • Of course, MS has long been choosing which merits are the ones that should count. Stability has not been one historically, although XP may cause them to change their tune. For the average decision-maker in, for example, state government, the merits might be
      • Runs on cheap x86 hardware,
      • Comes pre-installed by all major computer vendors,
      • Runs our current set of office software, as well as any specialized applications we have purchased over the years,
      • Fits our current network backup strategy, and
      • User interface is completely familiar.
      Without too much of a stretch, three of those are even "technical" merits. Most purchasers probably use at least some "merits" that are non-technical when making technology purchases.
  • It is interesting to me, perhaps a contradictory policy, Latin American nations see the advantages of free software and the impetus to remain free of restrictive licensing agreements and, yet, these very nations may (unwillingly?) institute DMCA-type measures on their populous pursuant to the Free Trade Agreement of Americas (FTAA) --- measures very restrictive on technological developments and activities related to software.
  • Take a look at this table [li.org] from the Linux counter project.

    If the trend from the last three months continues, we will soon be seeing Brazil overtake the US in terms of new registrants.

  • The obvious connection between Brazil (and Latin America) and Rio de Janeiro, while natural, is not very helpful to the would-be Linux tourist in Brazil.

    Most of the present key Linux places are located elsewhere. What follows is an incomplete list of the major places to contact about the state of Linux in Brazil:

    - Conectiva [conectiva.com] is the largest South Amrican Linux distribution. Largely based in Red-Hat, they have made a large effort to translate lots of applications interfaces into Portuguese and Spanish. Conectiva distribution is today one of the top Linux distributions in the world. Their main office is in Curitiba, a southern, beachless city.

    -Popular Computer Project [dcc.ufmg.br], an under U$200 computer using a stripped down version of KDE (containing basically Konqueror, KOffice and the supporting apps). This is being developed by the University of Minas Gerais, Minas Gerais being one of the few brazilian states without direct access to the sea.

    Projeto Software Livre [rs.gov.br], the project of the state of Rio Grande do Sul government (the southernmost brazilian state), to promote the use of free software in the state. This was the most publicized government project in this area, and the first time a state government declared anything about free software in Brazil.

    As a sad note, today I got the news that the Federal government buying a large number of computers to brazilian schools throughout the country. They will be buying only Windows machines.
  • Don't those banana republics know that US and er corporations are the protectors of the free world!. Requiring government to use Libre software is a bitch slap in the face of US.

    Remember last time a country had the guts to throw out U.S companies, being tired of working as underpaid plantation labor for U.S fruit barons? U.S us still upholding a strict trade embargo against that country.

    Good luck that Billy Boy has gotten himself into a bit of a jam with the DOJ, otherwise we'd seen the Marines setting up a beach head on Ipanema by now.

  • ... it's rather upsetting and embarassing to see that my country, touting itself as the pillar of freedom, still chooses to favor software from a company that itself identified as a monopoly. You would think, if politicians and tech decision makers were completely unbiased (a utopian dream) that they would look at all of the options, all of the angles, and all of the possible side affects of using proprietary, closed-source software from a monopoly. At the very least, heads of IT departments at US corporations should be looking at every resource available to them, not just one OS and set of software - as my company unfortunately does. I would expect the self-described experts to switch to open-source (as applicable) first, then the non-tech-oriented government to possibly follow. But for my country, mostly thinking it has the best government yet invented by society, to be the last to listen to some of the population and see the benefits of open-source software is very upsetting.
  • I am curious how long before Brazil or another country just ups and declares what price they will pay for a copyrighted piece of software.

    In other words, how long before they trample copyrights on software in the name of "the good of the people". Brazil has already shown (so has South Africa) that if your company doesn't agree to their terms they will just label you greedy and uncaring and use it as justification to take what they want.

    Hence, I think this "free" software is just a short term feel good measure. Anything is free if you don't pay for it. It uses the atypical (repeat after me : BORING) enenmy of Microsoft to explain why they must do this. Free software will only provide them "so much" before they will need to acquire a commercial product. What makes anyone believe they just won't suddenly end up with a near clone of that commercial software engineered under a "free clause"... in other words, put some government slaves to work taking it apart and remarking it as their own?

    Free does not equal open source.
    • In other words, how long before they trample copyrights on software in the name of "the good of the people". Brazil has already shown (so has South Africa) that if your company doesn't agree to their terms they will just label you greedy and uncaring and use it as justification to take what they want.

      Have I missed something here? South Africa taking what it wants? Are you talking about the AIDS protests here? If so then I'd like to see some reliable sources that back up your claim. On the software side, South Africa has a very active BSA office with all the usual members (since they nearly all have offices in this country).

      FYI, we in South Africa have a serious problem with HIV and not just the disease. Our president went on the record as saying HIV doesn't cause AIDS three months before his own press secretary succumbed to the syndrome. Last year the government gave out free condoms to those who needed them and - get this - stapled the instructions to the condom. When the deputy minister of health appeared on a radio chat show and was ridiculed by the host for her views, the ruling party demanded that he be sacked.

      When you have a clueless bunch in charge doing nothing about an infection rate of 1 in 8 over the whole population of 45m people, certain things take priority - and drug company patents are near the bottom.

    • Spoken like someone who still thinks laissez-faire capitalism is the cure for everything.

      These countries are doing what they're doing because they can't afford to do anything else. Brazil can no longer afford to blow massive amounts of money on an AIDS drug that they need desperately; seems to me that they've every right to make demands as we do, and a lot more need to do so. The fact is that drug companies go where the profits are. When you've got people dying, someone else's profits don't mean shit to you if there's something you can do about it.

      I think the software thing is actually a separate issue -- alternatives do exist, and these countries are mandating their use because the way they were going was costing them too much in terms of money and potential security threats. What these countries are saying is that dependence on Microsoft presents a threat that should be removed; the cost thing is probably a factor as well, but... oh, read the freakin' article.

      • Brazil can no longer afford to blow massive amounts of money on an AIDS drug that they need desperately

        Brazil spends $7 BILLION a year on its defense budget. Now, imagine if they spent that money on AIDS drugs instead of ripping off US patents.

        This is EVERYTHING to do with POLITICS and LITTLE to do with ECONOMICS.
    • Suppose a very big and strong guy tries to kill you with a knife. You have a gun in your hand. Would it be right to shoot him?

      There are millions of people dying of AIDS in Latin America and Africa. Those countries have no money to pay the drug companies what they are asking for. Is it right for them to give drugs to the people who need them, or should they pay as many billions of $$$ as the companies want? (HINT: those billions of $$$ will NOT go to the scientists who actually developed the drugs...)

      • Is it right for them to give drugs to the people who need them

        This decision to ignore patents will hurt investment in the pharma sector. It looks like every third-world government will step in and "nationalize" patents of life-saving medicine when politically beneficial to them. The medicine will invevitably get back to the US, and dillute the market here, dilluting returns, dilluting investment, dilluting R&D and FDA mandated testing.

        If these governments were not already overwhelmingly socialist, the countries might have their own drug companies by now, or at least their people could afford the drugs...

        If I had AIDS, I'd be very scared that future drugs will become economically unfeasable because of this.

        My wife has a condition that requires a drug for which there is not enough market support in the US for payback on FDA trials. I'd hate for anyone else to be in our shoes.
  • If this is a trend and not just a brief hiccup, it has a number of interesting implications:

    • Free software that governments use will probably quickly become very thoroughly internationalizable and will be localized for all sorts of oddball little niche languages in places where a commercial outfit couldn't commercially justify the translation effort. It will become the case that availability in the local language makes free software more attractive, even leaving aside cost and source-access issues, than commercial equivalents for non-government users in those regions.

    • This blows one of Microsoft's (spurious) anti-free-software arguments out of the water: "There's no viable business model in free software." Irrelevant to a government. Not that it's relevant or even true here either; IBM seems convinced there's money to be made in Linux.

    • Brazil has recently shown its willingness to assert what amounts to eminent domain over foreigners' intellectual property with its AIDS drug decision. Will other governments similarly decide to ignore US and European IP laws when those laws stand in the way of developing some required piece of functionality? To put that in more vivid terms, imagine if Sklyarov had been an employee of the Russian government instead of some no-name software firm, and his decryption software had been written as part of his government job. Arresting him might well have caused a huge international incident.

    • On a more abstract level, this represents the "information wants to be free" side's first big guns in the war over the nature, even the conceptual validity, of intellectual property. I think anyone who doesn't see that this war is shaping up to be one of the major cultural pivot points of our lifetimes isn't paying much attention. This is one more step down the slippery slope of the global Internet rendering massively profitable business models impractical.

    • If everyone in China starts running Linux, will their software piracy rates drop below those of countries in the West, even without any change in their software-copying behavior? The Software Publishers Association will probably try to claim that Linux is being pirated just to keep their statistics as inflated as possible; they excel at pulling meaningless but impressive numbers out of their asses so this would just be business as usual for them.

    It'll be interesting to see how this continues.

  • nitpick (Score:3, Insightful)

    by grue23 ( 158136 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @03:04PM (#2231329)
    From the article:

    In Europe, where numerous bills and resolutions have been introduced, local, state and federal governments spent $7.8 billion on software in 2000. In Brazil, governments spent a mere $200 million the same year, an indication of how little the country has to spend on software and why free or low-priced software holds such powerful appeal.

    This may look impressive, but one should also consider exactly what goes into the estimated costs on software purchases. If these estimates include the cost of man-hours for producing custom software, this is not going to be a fair comparison because it will have more to do with how much money European countries are putting into, say, development of custom military software than it will have to do with what OS the foreign ministry is using for their desktops. I browsed the net a bit but was unable to find out what the size of the budgets of all of the European countries was in comparison with the size of Brazil's budget. It would be much more compelling to see what percent of Brazil's budget was spent on software in comparison with the percent of the countries in Europe.

    As a side note, I know for a fact that the US military uses free operating systems and free build tools for some of their software, but they are still pouring a ton of money into the man-hours to create that custom software.

    While I advocate the use of free software, and agree that it will help save some money, the comparison between Brazil and Europe in this article is fairly ridiculous because of the likely nature of their software expenditures. This may be a little off the subject, but a pet peeve of mine is when articles throw out fairly meaningless numbers to attempt to support their point.

  • by bridgette ( 35800 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @03:21PM (#2231404)
    If Massachusetts can't refuse to do business with Burma, California and Canada can't ban specific chemicals and the EU can't refuse to purchase homone fed beef or genetically modified foods, then odds are, the WTO isn't gonna go for these governments banning closed source software.

    http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/WTOandWar.ht ml
    • I think you missed the point. This is not (for example) Brazil saying that noone in Brazil can use M$ software. This is (again, for example) a Brazilian government agency, like their Commerce agency, saying that the Commerce agency will only use free software.

      It would be like the US State Department announcing that the State Department will no longer use M$ products and they're going to be installing Linux. The WTO, or any other global organization, has no place to step in and say "You can't do that." It's the internal choice of a goverment agency.

      • I think you missed the point. This is not (for example) Brazil saying that noone in Brazil can use M$ software. This is (again, for example) a Brazilian government agency, like their Commerce agency, saying that the Commerce agency will only use free software.

        It would be like the US State Department announcing that the State Department will no longer use M$ products and they're going to be installing Linux. The WTO, or any other global organization, has no place to step in and say "You can't do that." It's the internal choice of a goverment agency.

        No, I got the point, but you missed my point.

        Like in the Massachussetts-Burma example, the Mass government decided that they wouldn't buy products or services from Burmese companies or from companies who do business with Burma. It was a purchasing policy descision that was internal to the Mass state govenment that had strong public support. Mass citizens and companies could do buisiness with Burma all they wanted, they just wouldn't win any contracts from the state govenment. The EU and Japan then whined to the WTO who had some sort of WTO trial. Eventually, under pressure from the Executive and Legislative branches (who were under pressure from the WTO) our "conservative" Supreme Court put the smack down on Mass and it's state's rights - IIRC the reasoning was something about the constitution not explicitly granting states the power to engage in foriegn policy and not wanting to dimishing the president's power to negotiate for the country.

        Lesson: Any municipality within any WTO member-country making any internal purchasing policies that don't conform to the WTO notion of "free trade" can and will get smaked down.
        • Like in the Massachussetts-Burma example, the Mass government decided that they wouldn't buy products or services from Burmese companies or from companies who do business with Burma. It was a purchasing policy descision that was internal to the Mass state govenment that had strong public support. Mass citizens and companies could do buisiness with Burma all they wanted, they just wouldn't win any contracts from the state govenment. The EU and Japan then whined to the WTO who had some sort of WTO trial. Eventually, under pressure from the Executive and Legislative branches (who were under pressure from the WTO) our "conservative" Supreme Court put the smack down on Mass and it's state's rights - IIRC the reasoning was something about the constitution not explicitly granting states the power to engage in foriegn policy and not wanting to dimishing the president's power to negotiate for the country.

          Yes, but you are neglecting that the circumstances are different. In the situation you cite, MA not only decided not to do business with Burma, they also extended that to not doing business with companies do business with Burma. It was the second part of that which raised the ire of the judiciary and WTO. By adding that on, it was no longer just a purchasing decision by a government agency. Had it just been a purchasing decision, there would have been no need for a state law, and hence no outside interference.

          I actually tend to agree with the Supreme Court in that case. MA is part of the USA, and as such cedes certain rights to the federal government, and some of those deal with foreign relations. The reasons for this make sense. Imagine if you were doing business, personal or otherwise, with many people in France, and every town had a different set of foreign policies as pertains to the town that you lived in? The bureaucracy and red tape become a nightmare. This is also where the USA gets its "power", whether used properly or improperly, in the foreign arena.

          Anyways, in this case we're talking about purchasing decisions (at least as I understand it), and your example includes a little more than that.

  • If I were a government, I'd want the source code of my software to be available for both security audits and in case my supplier ever went out of business. I would want all document file formats to be well documented and free of patent encumberances. I would want my software to interoperate easily with other software from other sources. Open source software fits all of these desires quite well.
  • The article has several blazing errors, such as:

    Brazil and China place heavy export duties on technology products, which effectively forces U.S. companies to build local facilities and employ large portions of the population.

    The countries in question impose import duties. They charge you to bring it into the country. They're tickled pink for you to make it there and then sell it to other countries.

    Otherwise, I think the article is quite correct in its central theme, other countries don't want to be beholden to the US in any way, shape or form. They would rather take care of themselves than live hand-to-mouth from crumbs off the American table. Hell, can you blame 'em!?!

  • snip from poster---
    Maybe it's time to visit Rio?

    snip from a Yahoo! news item---
    Elat estimates 100 to 200 people are killed every year by one of the 100 million bolts it says hit Brazil annually and make the country the world champion of lightning strikes.

    Do you really think this is a good place to visit for people who sit at computers all day?!

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. -- Thomas Edison