Venezuela Embraces Linux and Open Source Software, but Faces Challenges

Venezuela’s government is quickly moving towards the adoption of Open Source software, in a bid to save money and move towards technological independence.

Venezuela LinuxDec, 8, 2004 ( Venezuela’s government is quickly moving towards the adoption of Open Source software, in a bid to save money and move towards technological independence.

“This follows the principle of national scientific independence, so that we do not depend on privately owned software. If knowledge does not have owners, then intellectual property is a trap set by neo-liberalism,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said last September when he announced to be working on a decree to adopt Open Source software in the public administration.

However, different government entities are not waiting for a decree, and are independently adopting this type of software on their own.

The Office of Information Technology at the Ministry of Science and Technology, is currently touring the country promoting Open Source software through a series of workshops.

New government-sponsored public internet access points known as “info centers,” have been opened around the country using Open Source software. The personal computers at the Info Centers previously used Microsoft Windows as their operating system.

Last November, the Venezuelan Academy of Open Source Software was inaugurated in Mérida, an Andean city in western Venezuela, which will promote the development and use of this type of software.

Huge savings

Venezuela’s Ministry of Education and Sport saved more than two million dollars within the last year by implementing open source software in their datacenter at the Ministry Office of Informatics, which handles payroll, network management, forms, and web services, among others.

According to the Ministry’s Office of Informatics director, Carlos Joa, the Ministry has as a goal “to install 380.000 throughout the public school system, which would cost us around 400 million dollars in hardware. The cost of licenses for operating system and software, could reach a similar amount, but thanks to Open Source software, we can save that money,” said Joa, who also is president of the Bolivarian Foundation of Computing and Telematics.

“The goal is to have all our computers running this kind of software, except in isolated cases,” he said.

The Ministry of Education and Sport is training their IT and administrative personnel in the use of Open Source software, starting with GNU LINUX. One of the benefits observed, apart from the cost savings, is the absence of viruses which are mostly written for Microsoft Windows-based computers.

Venezuela hosted World Forum on Free Technology

Last November, Venezuela hosted the first World Forum on Free Technology, which featured Richard Stallman, the creator of the Free Software Foundation, and Antonio Alburquerque, Brazilian Minister of Communications, who helped in the adoption of that type of software in the Brazilian public sector.

Former Minister of Planning and Development, Felipe Pérez Martí, a local leader in the Open Source software movement who participated at the forum, said that the Venezuelan government spent 7.5 million dollars in software licensing fees. Pérez had said in the past that only 5% of government spending in proprietary software goes to benefit local developers.

Pérez announced at the Forum on Free Technology that he is preparing a proposal to be submitted to the Venezuelan National Assembly to make it obligatory to use Open Source software in the public sector.

PDVSA moves to Open Source too

Venezuela’s state oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), is also moving towards the adoption of Open Source software.  Socorro Hernández, PDVSA´s manager for Automation, Informatics and Telecommunications said that, starting this December, her company will start migrating towards Open Source. “We will use open source whenever possible, and proprietary software only when necessary,” clarified Felipe Perez. PDVSA is Venezuela’s main software buyer.

Challenges to Open Source

Proprietary software companies such as Microsoft Corp., have tried to stop the adoption of Open Source software by various governments around the world. Last November, the Initiative for Software Choice, a coalition backed by big industry giants such as Microsoft and Intel, sent a letter to the Director of the Office of Information Technology at the Ministry of Science and Technology, Arturo Gallegos, warning the Venezuelan government against adopting Open Source software.

“We applaud the government’s policies geared towards social inclusion and the narrowing of the digital gap… but we think that by adopting Open Source software exclusively, the government would actually be moving in the opposite direction,” said the letter.

Microsoft has had some success convincing Venezuelan government entities to use their software, through special offers and incentives. During the last year, the software giant has donated hundreds of licenses of their products to the Ministry of Education and Sport, with which it signed an agreement to use Microsoft software in public schools. Microsoft has also signed agreements with the Ministry of Science and Technology to provide them with cheap licenses.

Given the number of in house Microsoft Windows-based software used in the public sector, the massive effort needed to train users in the new technologies, and tempting offers from propietary sofware companies, it remains to be seen how fast Venezuela can adopt Open Source.