Brazil Mandates Shift to Free Software: News and ResponseJun 13, 2003, 16:00 (36 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Gonzalo Porcel, Gabinete De Prensa, Tony Stanco)
PCLinuxOnline/HispaLinux: The Brazilian Public Sector to Choose Free Software
Stanco: Opinion on Brazil Making Open Source Mandatory in Government
By Tony Stanco
According to the report [linked above], Brazil is making Open Source mandatory for 80% of all computers in state institutions and businesses, setting up a "Chamber for the Implementation of Software Libre."
While I think that Open Source in government is a good thing and have been working towards that goal for many years, making it mandatory is an industrial policy that may not succeed, which will hurt Open Source in the long run.
It is much better for governments to set up a real level playing field in procurement policy and then let the market decide on merit. If a product can't make it in the market without government mandates, then history has shown that it won't make it with government mandates either. Brazil would have been better off to have a policy to buy the best software for its technical needs, whether it is Open Source or proprietary. In my opinion, Open Source would succeed on the merits in most cases without the market distortions that government preference programs cause. Ironically, if Brazil buys Open Source just because it is Open Source rather than the best product, their citizens will likely suffer long term.
If governments want to create a culture of Open Source in their country to create an indigenous software industry (a noble goal), they are much better off working in the area of Education Policy, rather than Procurement Policy. To use a sports metaphor, Procurement Policy should be a race where the best win, so it needs to be a scrupulously fair competition for all. Whereas Education Policy is the practice and training exercises for the big race. Using Procurement Policy for Open Source, ensures that Open Source wins because they "knee cap" the competition, a morally unsatisfying "win." Using Education Policy for Open Source ensures that Open Source wins because it produces the best developers and software product.
Brazil should reconsider its strategy.