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Do you want to buy a notebook? Government-issued laptops for kids are increasingly being offered by international organizations and corporations as a viable shortcut to help bridge the digital divide in developing countries, and the brazilian government wants to start paving this shortcut as soon as possible. Federal authorities are working on an international procurement process and have already earmarked US$ 30 million to buy the first 150,000 notebook computers, which will be deployed on a pilot program.

Mobilis, the underdog from Encore

According to ComputerWorld (portuguese only), a government official stated that this international procurement process was chosen in order to let every interested organization do their bidding. And there should be many offers, as international PC makers are already avidly probing this market: brazilian kids are testing the OLPC XO, also known as the US$ 100 laptop, Intel’s Classmate PC, and the lesser known Encore Mobilis (pictured above), from India, also a developing country.

The brazilian open source community watches every move of this game with increasing attention as it approaches an important decision. All 3 alternatives support Linux, but proprietary OS makers aren’t known for forfeiting this kind of match: the Classmate PC officially supports Windows too, and the OLPC sometimes isn’t very assertive about Windows running on their bright-colored computers.

This is an important step, nonetheless. When effectively deployed, these first 150,000 computers will help evaluate how to extend similar programs to all brazilian students – no small feat, considering that there are more than 50 million students enrolled in brazilian public schools today.

See also: 150.000 unidades: Brasil fará sua primeira compra de laptop educacional em licitação (portuguese only).

SERPRO, the main IT solution provider for the Brazilian Government, is actively using Plone and Zope as its primary Portal construction tool for Government Web Content Management Solutions. SERPRO counts on an impressive list of reference and will soon launch its 50th governmental portal.

As the largest IT institution in the Brazilian Federal Government, SERPRO is providing many key services to the 10th largest economy in the World. SERPRO is responsible for all IT services within the Ministry of Finance and key information systems for the federal government. Principal products are Internet access services, Intranet portal solutions, consultancy and network communication services, and government applications (cities, states and federal).

Full story: “Open Source Plone a leading solution in Brazilian public sector (Zea Partners)

WindowMaker, the lightweight window manager that closely mimics NextStep’s look and feel, was at the peak of its own popularity chart some 5 or 6 years ago, when it was shipped as default GUI in some Linux distros, and offered as a standard alternative by most of them. Since then, it was put in some sort of unofficial maintenance mode by its authors.

Alfredo Kojima, the brazilian hacker that started WindowMaker development when he was still in university and wanted to offer an alternative to AfterStep, recently had a short interview (in portuguese only) with BR-Linux about the current status and plans for the project.

According to media-shy Kojima, now a GUI developer for MySQL AB and formerly a developer for brazilian distro Conectiva (now part of Mandriva) - where he wrote the first version of the popular Synaptic Package Manager, it’s hard to get motivated to maintain WindowMaker’s code in his scarce idle time, but he is still very attached to the project. “I got my first job, at Conectiva, thanks to WindowMaker, and the people at my current job at MySQL also knew the project and my part on it”, he tells.

Asked if the project is in official hiatus or even closed, Kojima gives some hope to those who still prefer the beautiful GUI of his brainchild: “The intention is to keep working on it when possible”, he says, but both him and Dan Pascu (the other prominent historical wmaker developer) are deeply involved in other technology projects for now.

The minimalistic WindowMaker look

Kojima is still active in brazilian open source scene, writing about software development for Codare, a popular brazilian blog for developers.

Despite looking a little dated when compared to today’s minimalistic window managers, WindowMaker is still used today, by old and new fans. In fact, die hard brazilian WindowMaker fans are even starting to regroup themselves with help of Wmaker Cyaneus, a community site dedicated to WindowMaker tips, tricks, themes, help and discussion.

According to IDG Now, Microsoft had a meeting last Wednesday (02/07) with brazilian government authorities to present last year’s Linux agreement with Novell and their joint interoperability strategy.

The story failed to reach other major news outlets, and even on IDG Now the datails are scarce at best: all we got was the expected bold declarations by the MS representatives, together with general and “safe” comments by brazilian government authorities.

But 2 odd facts didn’t go unnoticed: Novell didn’t send any representative to the meeting (and the government authorities didn’t like it, IDG Now reports), and the government guys weren’t named in the report - they even actively asked to remain anonymous when giving their declarations to the reporter. I wonder why.

Read more: Microsoft apresenta em Brasília seu pacto Linux com a Novell features a portrait of Sulamita Garcia, head of Linuxchix Brazil: “A lot of people have bemoaned the lack of women participating in open source communities, but Sulamita Garcia is one of the few who have stepped up to do something about it. A Slackware user from Florianopolis, Brazil, Garcia has been heading up LinuxChix Brazil for four years.”

Fellow blogger Eduardo Habkost wrote on his journal:

After the first fiasco, the brazilian judiciary insists that Internet Censorship is a good thing. I haven’t found any news articles about it in english yet, but you can read the news in portuguese (or an automated translation). A court ordered the major brazilian ISPs to block another site. Now the target is not a big site, but a tourism agency that got some attention from the brazilian media recently, in news related to sexual tourism in Brazil. It seems that at least the ISP I am using right now (BrasilTelecom) haven’t implemented the block yet. But considering that on the YouTube blocking case they have done this immediately after receiving the court notification, I think it is just a matter of time until ISPs receive a notification and implement the new block.

Read the full story (with more links) on - Brazil insisting on Internet Censorship.

A nice idea turned into a pirated software magnet? Users were replacing their pre-installed Linux with unlicensed Windows copies, and some of the reasons for these defections were addressed by today’s annoucement. But there are many other open issues still waiting for an answer.

Computador para Todos is a government project that offers special tax exemptions and lines of credit for popular (low end) computer makers in Brazil, as long as the computers are sold with Linux and an array of 26 pre-installed free software common applications, like a word processor, an e-mail client and other apps surely found in most Linux distros. The tax exemption is only valid if the PC is sold for less than R$ 1200 (about US$ 550), retail.

According to official estimatives, more than 800,000 PCs were sold using these tax exemptions and lines of credit in 2006, with a wide variety of international and local brands of Linux distros installed, despite claims that roughly 73% of the customers replace the pre-installed Linux distro with unlicensed Windows XP copies, less than 4 weeks after buying the computer.

Something old

There were several accounts of users telling the press and community sites that their “Computador para Todos” came without essential hardware drivers (like the ones needed by onboard software modems) or poorly configured hardware setups (USB ports not working, unable to record CDs…). Reportedly, all the user had to do to get things up and running smoothly was reinstall Linux from the included CD-ROM, but apparently many found out that it wasn’t hard to call somebody willing to lend a hand and install an unlicensed copy of Windows instead.

The local Linux community has been issuing alerts and suggestions about the situation since the first accounts of insufficiently configured computers being sold, because of the obvious negative implications that these events can have, specially on brazilian mainstream media. Most of the suggestions are based on the general idea that there must be some sort of quality control of the “certified” PCs, including their OS setup and basic hardware support, and that the mandatory user support must be improved to go beyond the levels offered by the unknown individuals who “support” the install of unlicensed Windows.

Something new

To date, there was no answer from the government about these alerts issued by the community, and no word indicating that we will see revisions of the quality control process or support requirements. But today the brazilian branch of IDG News Service reported some related good news: roughly 16 months after its first announcement, the basic mandatory hardware setup of the Computador para Todos will be updated.

The new setup is not confirmed yet, but according to government officials the changes were suggested by hardware manufacturers, and intend to build a more up-to-date configuration, without the need for diskette drives, and accepting 14″ LCD monitors as a (more than) valid substitute for the previously mandated 15″ CRT ones.

Users will be specially glad to know that the amount of installed RAM will be doubled, from the previous almost insufferable 128MB to the almost sufficient (for most uses) 256MB.

Something borrowed, something blue

In this particular case, the absence of news (about the quality control and support) is not good news, and the brazilian community keeps on waiting for a position or even some hint of changes in this aspect of the program.

But the updated hardware configuration is excelent news: 128MB is not enough for most common applications, specially in the cases where the PC maker ships distros with advanced desktop environments, and applications that are memory hogs like OpenOffice. Can you imagine how long it takes to load OpenOffice running on KDE, both with default configurations, on a cheap PC with 128MB, when some of this RAM is being shared with the video board, and a software modem is working? Many brazilian users know.

Offering some contrast, the local press today announced that Kenya will lauch a similar program, and they will start already with a quality assurance program in place, hardware manufacturers certification, universities acting as incubators, and 256MB of available RAM.

We don’t know if they are using open source software (we do hope so), but we know that they expect to sell their computers for a little less than the Computador para Todos. We wish them good luck, and also that other similar programs around the world may cross-polynize in the future, to avoid putting aditional hurdles on the bridges over the digital divide.

Portuguese blog Tux Vermelho tried to install some Firefox-specific resources (cough - Google Browser Sync - cough!) on Debian’s newly rebranded Firefox flavour, IceWeasel.

No, no, said the installer - this app needs Firefox. ‘Surely you are mistaken, we’re using a fully compatible ersatz variation’, replied the Tux Vermelho guys to the installer, to no avail. But later they found out that it’s not hard to tell IceWeasel to pretend to be Firefox when it comes to identify itself to servers and apps - and they wrote a small tutorial.

Just a few clicks (go to about:config and change the value of general.useragent.extra.firefox), but maybe it would be simpler to just use the original open source app instead of resorting to fake IDs.

Brazilian Federal Law 11.419/2006 is a revolutionary act that intends to enable digital (paperless) lawsuits and other proceedings in brazilian courts of law and justice. That’s a lot less paper, improved speed and efficiency, faster communications and additional levels of security.

But there’s one more reason to rejoice: this law also determines that Open Source solutions shall be preferred when implementing this Justice digitalization. There’s no clear definition of what will be accepted as an open source solution - no reference to OSIS’s Open Source Definition, for instance - and what exactly it means to be a preferred solution. But, at the very least, it’s a step in the right direction.

Dazed and confused? The brazilian Linux community was surprised this week with news about Diebold trying to sell Linux-running PCs to the brazilian government. And boy, Diebold seems to be having a hard time selling those “Flux Linux” based PCs to the Ministry of Communication.

According to brazilian magazine Convergência Digital, the Ministry of Communication intended to buy 5400 Linux-running PCs from local hardware sellers, for use in many (planned) new “Telecentros“, public offices, offered by the federal, state or local government and similar to internet cafes, where citizens who can’t or won’t afford their own computers and connectivity may use the government provided PCs (mostly using open source software) and public internet connections to search and surf the web, run office applications or educational softwares.

Diebold’s brazilian subsidiary, Diebold Procomp, offered its PCs, running the previously unheard-of “Flux Linux” distro. All was relatively well, despite other manufacturers’ protests about unknown issues, but suddenly - on December 28 - the negotiations deteriorated, and right now are in an uncertain status, and the Ministry won’t even talk about it on the record. Positivo Informatica, the second best bidder in the eyes of the Ministry, is trying to push forward its offer

What surprised the open source community, however, was the fact that the ministry was in this shopping spree, and didn’t actively confer, consult or even send a news release to the national Linux community. When a government project involving open source software goes bad, it’s not uncommon to hear the same old excuse: the community was unwilling to help. But the community can’t help if the solution is specified, developed and bought without as much as a postcard to the community, warning us that some agency or ministry was willing to buy (and support) an unheard-of distro.

Lack of communication skills in the Ministry of Communication? No, I don’t think so.


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