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5.1.2007 | Von:
Ronaldo Lemos da Silva Júnior

Open Source means sustainable developemt

To move from Brazil to the larger scale: What are the possibilities of open source models for developing countries in general?

For instance, think about the problem of digital inclusion, the digital divide – which is a big problem for the developing world. Because so few people in developing countries have access to the internet. Brazil has a population of approximately 180 million people, but only twenty percent, maybe even less, of the population have access to the internet. You have to do something about this. You have to give people access to computers.

One of the main models for providing access to people is telecentres. That means a small shop, a small kiosk that is generally implemented in the poorest areas. And these people cannot afford to pay proprietary software licences. Another challenge is sustainability over time: Once the government funding runs out, what are you going to do?

There is experience, in the state of Sao Paulo, with implementing telecentres with free software. And this has been very successful, because it helps the sustainability of the telecentres in the future: They don't have to pay for licences whenever they have to upgrade the software. They are basically using Linux for their operational system, and OpenOffice tools for the main applications in the telecentres. So there is this connection between open source and free software and sustainability. And I think this is very important for developing countries as a whole.

And what are the limits?

All right, this is a very good question. Free software is not going to solve all the problems. You have to get other stuff free as well, in order to really have technology becoming emancipating and a tool for autonomy. Its not only free software, it should also bee free culture, free spectrum, and free hardware. If you get these four things together, then you have all tools in place for developing countries. Free software is only one piece of the puzzle.

Could you just very shortly explain the other three ones?

Well, the first one is free culture: That's the Creative Commons movement, for instance, in which people share knowledge, and knowledge is available on the internet without any difficulties to get permission, and you can actually reprocess knowledge. That's the idea of Creative Commons, and the main examples are the Wikipedia and all the collaborative websites – the so-called Web 2.0. This is something that is getting really important now for developing countries: this whole idea about collaboration and open knowledge.

The second part is free spectrum – allowing technology to suppress the scarcity of the electromagnetic spectrum. That means you can actually use WiFi networks free, you have portions of the spectrum which are freely licensed so that people can experiment with them. This is very important for developing countries because these things are what is going to make a difference in the future in terms of how you use the internet and how you get access to and transmit information over the air.

The last thing is free hardware. By that, I don't mean that hardware should be distributed freely. What I mean is that hardware should not be encumbered, as with DRM systems, for instance. Computers should not be built from factory to become rebellious against the will of the consumer or the person using them. Hardware must be open, in the sense that you type in it, you put commands in it, and it follows your instructions exactly, and not the instructions that are provided by the content industry or other third parties' interests.


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