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Venezuela and Open Source: A Paso de Vencedores

By Miguel Octavio

8/31/2002 My blog was less than one month old, two and a half years ago, when I wrote for the first time on Venezuela and Linux, due to an article which appeared in Linux Today entitled Venezuela’s Government shifts to open source software. The article generated a big discussion in Slashdot, most of which was useless as most writers have no idea how inefficient the Venezuelan Government is.

9/01/2002 A scandal broke out because it turned out that two of the three “advisors” to the Minister of Planning happened to have very strong ties to Linux commercial efforts. It was that and not some Microsoft plot that stopped that effort.

9/29/2004 Right after Venezuela spent close to US$ 400 million buying voting machines with embedded Windows and fingerprint machines, which are also Windows based, a new effort was announced by the President himself, promising “obligatory” open software. Officials spoke about “national scientific independence” which must be something equivalent to “secure embedded Windows” in the voting machines, coming from the Government that killed the most important scientific institution and project in the country’s history. The President also announced that day that he would open 343 “infocenters” by tomorrow. Oh well! Another deadline is past!

12/30/04 And thus we arrive at today, when finally the decree is in and once again the Slashdot nest is stirred with an article entitled Venezuela Moves Further Towards Open Source. Well, it turns out it is not “further”, it is actually “less towards” Open Source than before. The previous decrees were never actually published or implemented and someone had the presence of mind not to make it obligatory, but to issue a decree to have all public institutions present their plans towards Open Source implementation and they all have no more than 24 months to adapt themselves to the decree. I will remind you of this on 12/30/2006.

Now, I think that if they really want to do this, rather than spend the money in making the Bolivarian Computer (COMPUBOL), the Ministry should spend money giving out grants to software developers who use open source and training people jointly with Universities as the Government will need hundreds of IT people trained in Linux/Tools and whatever.

In the meantime, it is hard to imagine underfunded institutions like the Ministry of Health or many others, devoting significant resources to this project. You need a carrot and a stick to drive a project like this and I just don’t see it. They should have used it in the electoral machines, or the fingerprint grabbing machines, or the new system for National ID cards, all Windows based and huge investments by the Government in the last two years. And they didn’t. In fact, today is the two year and four month anniversary of the first such announcement and all we have so far is only the decree. What were they doing? As Chavez says this revolution moves “A paso de vencedores” (At the pace of winners)

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