Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 29/07/2002Latin America is proving a fractious place at the moment, with Argentina in financial meltdown, Brazil and Uruguay looking decidedly dodgy and let's not even start on Colombia. Which means that, in common with most of the world, it's not a place with oodles of spare cash.

Monday 29/07/2002
Latin America is proving a fractious place at the moment, with Argentina in financial meltdown, Brazil and Uruguay looking decidedly dodgy and let's not even start on Colombia. Which means that, in common with most of the world, it's not a place with oodles of spare cash. IT should be especially useful, if it's affordable. And what a great thing free software is, said the Peruvians, 'cos its so much cheaper and also more reliable -- you can check it for bugs yourself. They liked this argument so much, in fact, they've got a bill going through the legislature insisting that government departments and people who do business with them should use open-source software. Cue paroxysms from Redmond, where Microsoft finds such ideas against the principles of fair competition, free enterprise and level playing fields that the company so conspicuously espouses. Letters have been sent, Bill Gates has been despatched with the Chequebook of Correction to donate half a million dollars worth of goods, services and cash to the Peruvian government, and still the southerners haven't got the message. Time to escalate, and so the US Ambassador was drafted in. He sent a stern note to the Peruvian president, saying that not allowing commercial software could hurt an industry with the potential to create 15,000 jobs. The bill's supporters, however, are having none of it -- the ambassador's missive is seen as adding a charge of US meddling in South American affairs to the original sin of Microsoft expanding its hegemony. That's deeply unfashionable at the moment, and full-blown trade disputes have been born of less. The final word probably belongs to the people who point out that in a country where schools can't afford to pay for water and electricity, a Microsoft licence fee is a luxury too far -- especially when there are good alternatives. To which I'd add that while open source does indeed need people to install, maintain and configure it, you might as well grow those skills locally and build up local companies. And understanding open-source software means more people will be exposed to programming and systems software design, which sounds better value to me than just learning how to install Office.

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