A Brazilian Linux let-down

The government subsidizes free software. But does anyone use it?

Published August 27, 2008 1:53PM (EDT)

You can argue whether Brazil's state support of open source and free software stems from the country's hybrid, mestizo, mix-and-match-and-mashup historical identity, as theorized by former Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil, or is simply President Lula's way of thumbing his nose at American corporate giants such as Microsoft. But there's no doubt that the allegiance is real. In an effort to spread personal computer usage throughout Brazil, the government has for years subsidized the purchase of PCs with low-interest loans -- as long as the computers are preinstalled with Linux.

But in a CNET article taking a look at the obstacles hindering the growth of the technology market in Brazil, reporter Ina Fried suggests that many of those computers don't stick with their Linux-based operating systems for very long.

...Some estimates show as many as 18 or 19 out of every 20 machines sold with Linux ultimately are converted to some form of Windows.

"There was a retailer in one of the countries that sold their systems with Linux," said Gartner analyst Luis Anavitarte. "They made a survey of clients within the first 30 days; 95 percent were already on Windows."

One can wonder just how much to trust a source citing an unnamed retailer in an unnamed country, but there is also some anecdotal supporting evidence from within the free software community. Which reminds me of the famous line from one of William Gibson's earliest stories, "Burning Chrome" -- "the street finds its own uses for things."

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Brazil Globalization How The World Works Latin America Linux Microsoft