May 2009

"...we have obligations in these next years to consolidate free software in Brazil as a viable business model, making it more independent from the policies of the current administration, making it a part of the Brazilian state with its different actors: the government, civil society, universities. We should use this great moment that we're living in for digital inclusion, for the re-organization of our country to implant a new philosophy and a new model of business."

Marcos Mazoni, head of Brazil's Technical Committee for the Implementation of Free Software

In most countries, government initiatives that encourage the use of open source software (OSS) are primarily motivated by the goal of reducing costs. In Brazil, the goal is different. According to Rogerio Santanna, Secretary of Logistics and IT at the Brazilian Ministry of Planning, Budget and Management, "open source is a strategic choice of the Brazilian Federal Government since 2003 because it reduces costs, increases the competition, creates jobs and develops the knowledge and intelligence of our country. Our preference for open source is not motivated only by economic aspects. But there is also the possibility to develop new products, distribute the knowledge, access to new technologies and to stimulate the development of software in collaborative environments".

This article shows how the Brazilian Government is using OSS, gives some examples of successful Brazilian projects that use OSS, explains some difficulties for implementing OSS, and makes a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of using OSS.

Guidelines of the Brazilian Government

Since 2003, the Brazilian government has begun to adopt the use of OSS in many institutions. Brazil has been changing politically, and a group coordinated by the Brazilian government, the Information Technology Institute (ITI), has set the guidelines, objectives and priority actions for the implementation of OSS within the Brazilian government.

These guidelines instruct the Brazilian government to:

  • prioritize solutions, programs and services based on OSS that promote the optimization of resources and investments in information technology (IT)
  • prioritize the web platform in the development of systems and interfaces for users
  • adopt open standards
  • increase OSS use in the public and private sectors
  • expand the amount of services provided to citizens through OSS
  • ensure that every citizen has the right to access public services without forcing the use of specific platforms
  • ensure OSS is the basis of programs for digital inclusion
  • ensure full audit ability and security systems
  • ensure interoperability with legacy systems
  • restrict the growth of software based on proprietary technology
  • migrate proprietary systems
  • prioritize the acquisition of compatible hardware platforms for OSS
  • ensure the free distribution of OSS systems in a voluntary and collaborative manner
  • strengthen the existing sharing of OSS inside and outside government
  • encourage and promote the domestic market to adopt new business models in IT and communications based on OSS
  • promote the conditions for changing the organizational culture for the adoption of OSS
  • promote capacity building and training of public servants to use OSS
  • create a national policy for OSS

From these guidelines, several actions were undertaken by the Brazilian government to achieve these goals. In practice, the Brazilian government is actually using OSS and has created a portal to disclose the use of OSS in Brazil.

Brazilian Projects Using OSS

The Brazilian government supports many projects that rely on OSS. Many organizations of the Brazilian government use Java as a primary development platform. For example, 98% of annual Income Tax forms, for calculating returns and submitting payments, are sent over the Internet. By 2009, only a Java application will be used for this purpose. At Brazilian Digital Television, the middleware responsible for the process of digital interactive TV, known as Ginga, was developed in Java.

Brazil has been using electronic voting since 1995 and 136.8 million people voted in the 2006 election. The next version of the voting machines will use GNU/Linux.

In education, University enrollment is done via the Internet. E-Proinfo is an e-learning project that has already trained 50,000 students. It is public software which was developed for the Secretariat of Distance Education and released under the GPL.

Since 2006, the government is backing the development of OSS for clusters and grids, with a focus on high availability, load balancing, database replication, distributed mass storage, and virtualization.

In addition to open source, achieving interoperability through the use of open standards is important. The Brazilian e-Government Interoperability Standards (e-PING) use XML and are browser compliant. Metadata standards are set using the e-Government Accessibility Model (e-MAG).

Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil, stated in the Brazilian Guide of Use of OSS that "There are 22,000 computers connected to the Internet using open source software. These Telecentres have computers with free Internet access, electronic mail, banking service and other online services available to the population that still cannot have a PC at home."

Difficulties for Implementation of Open Source

The critical factors for a successful implementation of open source include:

  • training
  • documentation
  • defining standards
  • technical support

It can be difficult to convince a user to change their operating system or office software because open source requires a change in user habits. In most cases, users use less than 5% of the functionality provided by the Microsoft Office Suite software, making it possible to change the culture of a user. A great challenge for the government is to really change the use of proprietary Office software to an open source office suite.

Another major difficulty is the lack of local technical expertise to support OSS. When the software is proprietary, there is usually an infrastructure of support and assistance provided by the manufacturer. In the case of OSS, there is often no formal structure and the associated community may not provide a fast answer according to the user's needs.

Case of Bank of Brazil

The Bank of Brazil, the largest public bank in Brazil, has more than 100,000 work stations, more than 6,000 servers, 15 IBM mainframes and more than 42,000 automated teller machine (ATM) terminals. The Bank of Brazil began to use OSS in 2001 with the use of Linux servers and the squid caching proxy.

Since then, various initiatives using OSS have been deployed at the Bank of Brazil. The main initiatives include:

  • the deployment of OpenOffice on more than 60,000 stations that reduced by 70% the amount of licenses paid to Microsoft for its Office Suite
  • the migration of over 5,500 servers and more than 57,000 stations to Linux

In terms of economy, the Bank generated a savings of more than $30 million USD in the reduced licensing of software.

Use of OSS in State and Municipal Governments

Use of OSS was started by the federal government, but now the state and municipal governments are also using OSS. As an example, the Government of the State of Ceara has already passed a law that "established the preferential use of free software as corporate standard tool for implementation and management of state policy of information technology and communication within the Government of the State of Ceara". This "preferential use" has already resulted in every department switching from the proprietary Oracle database to the open source PostgreSQL database.

Licia Maria Viana Bezerra, IT strategic manager for the Ceara government, said in an interview: "The challenge is a change of culture. Government needs to convince all users to adopt and use new products, with new interfaces, but it's so hard to do it. In the Ceara State Government, we have several cases of success; some entities in the government are using only open source software. The Ceara Government Migration Project to Open Source Software was already presented in other states and is serving as a model for other governments."

Our company, IVIA, helped the government of the State of Ceara to develop its government websites using open source content management systems. The project was considered very successful as the OSS solution added more functionality while saving licensing costs. Today, the Ceara government is able to easily manage the content of each website using this solution.

Advantages and Disadvantages

There are many advantages and disadvantages for using OSS. The main economic advantage is related to license cost. In Brazil, when the voting machines were using propriety software, the government paid a lot of money to license this software. Another advantage is the fact that many people and companies can contribute to new versions and features of OSS.

The main disadvantage is related to a lack of technical support providing a Service Level Agreement (SLA). This can be an issue when you want to use OSS in a mission critical environment.

We believe that while there are many advantages provided by the use of OSS in a government environment, the government does not need to change all software solutions to OSS. There are some OSS solutions where the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is more expensive than a proprietary solution. It is important for the government, or any organization, to research the best solution to solve a specific problem.

Brazil vs. Canada's Use of OSS

At the Canadian Government's website, you can see Open Source Software Frequently Asked Questions and get some information about use of OSS in Canada.

Brazil is creating laws to obligate entities, such as government departments, to use only OSS. In some departments, users are not allowed to use proprietary office software and must instead use OSS equivalents.

In contrast, the Canadian Government believes that mandating one type of solution, such as OSS, restricts the decision-maker's flexibility to choose the best available solution according to their business needs and the principles of the government's Federated Architecture Program.


The Brazilian Government has seen much success in the adoption and use of OSS in many projects. The Brazilian Government's strategy to use OSS will motivate many Brazilian IT companies to create, innovate and support OSS. In the near future, the Brazilian Government will continue to use more and more OSS.

We believe that governments should use both proprietary and open source solutions. However, government decision-makers should be mandated to avoid spending money on a proprietary solution when an equivalent open source solution exists. The government should think like private companies and choose the best return of investment (ROI) solution.

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