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MIT backs Open Source for the Brazil poor

The director of MIT's Media Lab has recommended that Brazil install open-source software on thousands of computers that will be sold to the poor, saying proprietary software programs like ones offered by Microsoft may be less attractive. "We advocate using high-quality free software as opposed to scaled-down versions of more costly proprietary software," Walter Bender, director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a letter to the Brazilian government obtained by Reuters on Thursday. "Free software is far better on the dimensions of cost, power and quality." President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and several ministers may decide as early as this week whether free software or a simplified version of Microsoft Windows will be installed on computers for a new effort called PC Conectado, or the Connected PC. The effort aims to sell up to 1 million computers, with costs partially subsidized by the government, to lower middle income Brazilians this year. A final decision on which software to install has been delayed several times. Some cabinet members think consumers should have a choice between buying a computer with open-source software and paying slightly more for a machine with Microsoft software. They think this approach would make sense to reach consumers who are already familiar with Microsoft software. But free software advocates within Lula's administration believe Microsoft should be excluded from the program. Brazil, the world's fifth most populous country and a growing economic power, has taken a prominent role in the so-called free software movement, an effort that champions free computer operating systems like Linux as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows program. Many government agencies are migrating to Linux to cut millions of dollars in software licensing costs. "Since sustainable economic growth lies in contributions to the creative and knowledge-based economy, it is obvious to us that the best path is providing the greatest possible saturation," Bender and the co-author of the letter, research scientist David Cavallo, said. “It is also obvious that the most powerful technology at the lowest cost provides the greatest penetration." Bender and Cavallo also said open-source software cheaply allows for the development of a skilled community of software writers. "If the source code is proprietary, it is hidden from the general population. This robs them of a tremendous source for learning," the authors said. "Open source serves not only as an example of programing ideas and implementations, but also the development community serves as a accessible social learning community of practice." In addition to his faith in open source, Bender later told Reuters in a telephone interview he thinks consumers should be granted a choice. "I think consumers should be given a choice between open source and proprietary systems because both have their uses," he said. Bender added that his opinions were his own. "I'm making these statements as an individual not on behalf of MIT." A Microsoft spokesman in Sao Paulo declined to comment. Related stories. Bill Gates wants change in Brazil’s software ethos

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