|By Bill Weinberg||
|September 15, 2005 11:00 AM EDT||
Brazil. Samba, Soccer, Carnaval, Caipirinhas and Churrasco. And, of course, Open Source. The Latin American nation of 180 million is among the world's leaders in both government-backed and grass-roots adoption of Free and Open Software (FOSS), with growing deployment in the public sector, in the banking and retail industries, and by educational institutions, both for infrastructure and curriculum use. Moreover, Brazil is home to dozens of FOSS projects and to some illustrious proponents of Linux, including kernel maintainer Marcelo Tosatti and pop star minister of culture, Gilberto Gil.
This article focuses on how federal and local government agencies and schools, from the streets of São Paulo to the sertão of Ceará, are leveraging Linux in both the classroom and the data center, and as matters of public policy and of personal choice.
Lei de informática - Brazil's Govertment and IT Law
Just as climate changes brought Magellanic penguins to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's political clime in recent years has proven very favorable to Tux and to open source software. The administration of president Luis Ignácio "Lula" da Silva has enacted procurement policies that aim to displace proprietary software on 300,000 government computers, and to fuel Brazil's long-cherished dream of cultivating local high-tech industry and even of becoming a net exporter of technology. In particular, Lula has (re)allocated US$1 Billion for FOSS-based communications and mandated the upgrade and integration of 200,000 public schools with FOSS nation-wide (although availability of funding has been subject to terms of the International Monetary Fund and repayment of longstanding international debt, causing substantial delays).
Ministry of Education
For the past several years, even before the term of the present government, the Brazilian Ministry of Education has been developing programs to bring computers into K-12 school and public university settings, and to connect Brazil's public educational system internally and to the Internet. For these ongoing programs, the introduction of Linux and other open source software provides both a financial boon and ongoing impetus for local development of platform and application software. Examples of MOE programs include the establishment of 500 computer labs around Brazil and training 700 support staff for Linux/Windows dual-boot client/server systems; migration to 100% open source of legacy programs like Rived (Virtual Education Network co-sponsored by Intel do Brasil), the Repository of Learning Objects, e-Pronto, and the Distance Learning Environment Platform.
Adoption by Region
While Brazil's central government and its Ministry of Education and the ITI (Institute of Informatics) evangelize and nominally fund efforts from their offices in Brasilia, the real measures of success come from regional programs with local funding. Moreover, while some of these regional efforts build directly on government initiatives, others stem from corporate sponsorship and local school district investments.
State of São Paulo
The most visible adoption programs have focused on public education in the mega-city of São Paulo, whose 18 million inhabitants drive a large swath of the national economy and whose thriving business community creates demand for a computer-literate workforce. Through the auspices of corporate sponsorship, the city's fiscally challenged schools have been able to establish over 500 technology labs with more than 15,000 workstations and servers that target 1.5 million students. Results, however, have been mixed. On the one hand, the city reportedly is saving millions of reais (R$) on server and client platform licensing by deploying Linux and FOSS workloads. On the other, there still exists a large gap in the availability of educational software and in the ability of Windows-literate teachers to use and teach with Linux-based client systems.
The state of São Paulo also boasts several important academic and industrial research and development centers around the interior city of Campinas. For example, the University of Campinas (Unicamp) leveraged the support of IBM's Linux Technology Center in establishing a world-class research program around the Linux OS and open source software. The presence of Unicamp, of its facilities, and of able graduates has also fostered the establishment of a community of both large and small high-tech firms, one of several "mini Silicon Valleys" in the country.
Brasilia Federal District
The nation's capital, Brasilia, is home to the Catholic University of Brazil (UCB), a bastion of Linux and other open source project work. Schools like UCB work in close collaboration with industry, and UCB is presently engaged with Intel and Itaútec in support of an Open Source Lab. UCB's Open Source lab has two main objectives: (1) to build proof-of-concept prototypes to test and validate applications and workloads with Linux and open source stacks, and (2) to foster and host local development of Linux-based applications. Recent lab efforts include research toward building open source network administration tools based on OpenLDAP, drawing on requirements gathered by Itaútec from large government IT providers. Also, Intel has promoted testing and validation of the resultant tools for robustness and scalability, and guided the evolution of the projects.
State of Espírito Santo
The city of Ecoporanga instituted a digital inclusion program administered by students and teachers. This program builds on a broader effort by Brazil's Ministry of Communications to establish computer labs in 1,400 schools nationwide with satellite-based Internet connectivity.
State of Paraná
Educational institutions at several levels are deploying 30,000 machines in remote boot client/server (5:1) installations. The configuration was developed by a team from the University of Paraná, with funding from the World Bank and Unesco. Ongoing work is also supported by Intel do Brasil and MSTech with a goal of sourcing open source e-classroom management applications. In the absence of plentiful CAEware, in Paraná as in other locales, IT teams tend to build on server-based deployment with thin clients or mono-purpose workstations.
States of Rio Grande do Sul, Rio de Janeiro and Ceará
Local educators are using MOE funding to develop and deploy Windows/Linux dual boot systems for classroom use, with municipal and neighborhood-based digital inclusion and Internet access programs, especially for underprivileged youth.
A key factor driving programs at both national and local levels has been the involvement of both Brazilian and multi-national corporate interests. In country, companies like Itaútec (owned by Banco Itaú), Novadata, and Linux supplier Conectiva (now a part of Mandriva) have invested heavily in "informatizing" Brazilian education (much as Apple did in the '70s and '80s in the U.S.). Complementing such native efforts are programs sponsored by companies like Intel and IBM, both of which have a long-standing presence in Brazil and make substantial investments in the dissemination of computer technology there.
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