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3/29/2005
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Open Source Vs. Microsoft: In Brazil, It?s No Contest

In about a month's time, the Brazilian government will initiate a program called PC Conectado, or Connected PC, with the goal of aiding millions of its low-income citizens in purchasing computers. Don't expect Microsoft to be on the desktop.

In about a month's time, the Brazilian government will initiate a program called PC Conectado, or Connected PC, with the goal of aiding millions of its low-income citizens in purchasing computers. Don't expect Microsoft to be on the desktop."For this program to be viable, it has to be with free software," Sérgio Amadeu, president of Brazil's National Institute of Information Technology, the agency that oversees the government's technology initiatives, said in a New York Times article published Tuesday.

Microsoft has offered to provide a simplified, discounted version of Windows for the program, but Amadeu and some other Brazilian officials have publicly criticized Microsoft's proposal, calling the version's abilities too limited, according to the Times. Still, the paper reports, Microsoft hasn't yet given up.

It's not just in homes where Microsoft may be shut out. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has directed government agencies and state-operated companies to segue from the Microsoft operating system to open-source systems in order to save the government millions of dollars in royalty and licensing fees. Brazil, the Times reports, is the first country to require any company or research institute that receives government money to develop software to license it as open source, meaning the underlying software code must be free to all.

With 184.1 million residents, a bit more than half the U.S. population, Brazil is a virtually untapped market for high-tech wares and services. Only 10% of households have PCs. Though poor when compared with the United States-the average Brazilian has purchasing power of $7,600 a year versus $37,800 for Americans-PC Conectado will allow a large number of Brazilians-perhaps another 10 million households-to buy their first PCs. The cost to buy a computer under PC Conectado will be about $500 and can be paid off over two years in monthly installments of about $20 each. Local phone companies have agreed to provide dial-up Net access for less than $3 a month. In 2002, the latest year for which numbers are available, Brazil had 14.3 million Internet users, compared with nearly 160 million in the United States.

It's just the kind of market Microsoft would like to dominate, but Redmond may never get the chance. "We're not going to spend taxpayers' money on a program so that Microsoft can further consolidate its monopoly," Amadeu said. "It's the government's responsibility to ensure that there is competition, and that means giving alternative software platforms a chance to prosper."

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