[News] Microsoft Verses Venezuela

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 16 11:29:52 EDT 2009

Microsoft Verses Venezuela

July 15th 2009, by Tamara Pearson – Venezuelanalysis.com

Yesterday, Microsoft MSN (Spain) featured a 
montage photo of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez 
and the ex president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, 
wearing king's crowns, accompanied by the 
colourful title, "When power corrupts: Striving 
to be kings." The Venezuelan government and a 
grassroots technology movement here are both 
promoting the use and creation of open source 
(free) software, so it's no surprise that 
software tyrant, Microsoft, is lambasting Chavez.

Following the MSN headline was a slide show of 
photos of nine world leaders with paragraphs 
accompanying each, describing just how 
undemocratic and power hungry they all are. All 
of the leaders bar two are from Latin America or 
East Asia, reflecting the racist sentiment that 
the "West" is democratic perfection. Also, 
perhaps just a coincidence, East Asia and Latin 
America are regions with some of the strongest open source software movements.

Ironically, of the two Western leaders featured, 
the king of Spain is the one leader of the whole 
bunch who wasn't in any way elected, whilst the other, Napoleon, is long dead.

The paragraph accompanying Chavez's photo read, 
"Hugo Chavez is in it for the long run. He has 
touched up laws at his whim and for his own 
interest. And why not, he did the same with the 
constitution that he devised in 1999 but in which 
he made one mistake: term limits. After his first 
election (1999) and the two after that (2001 and 
2007), the law hasn't allowed him the option of 
running again as president. And instead of 
accepting that, he changed the law."

First of all, MSN, do your research. The last 
presidential election was in 2006, not 2007. 
Secondly, the commentary does not mention that 
the constitution (created by a constitutional 
assembly with members elected by the public) and 
the constitutional amendment were both approved by popular referendum.

MSN, the default home page for Microsoft Internet 
Explorer, and a hub page of Microsoft services 
such as Hotmail, Messenger, downloads, "news", a 
search engine, advertisements and so on, is just 
an extension, or a facilitator, of the Microsoft 
software and technology empire.

It is hard to miss the irony of such an 
unaccountable, billion dollar, US based 
multinational corporation which monopolises its 
industry, calling a president who has held 15 
elections (amendments, referendums, recalls, 
regional elections and so on) in 10 years, a wannabe king.

Microsoft, founded in 1975 by current billionaire 
Bill Gates, and Paul Allen, is the producer of 
Microsoft Windows, Word, Explorer, Messenger, and 
so on. It has risen to dominance by patenting 
products frequently based on other people's work 
or on common, global ideas. It monopolises the 
computer world through its ownership of the 
operating system Windows, and through a strategy 
of program compatibility. Then it multiplies its 
profits by convincing (and obliging) program 
users to buy upgrades every few years.

In 1994 Microsoft's operating system was driving 
93% of the world's desktops, and its software- 
90% of the market. The company has, what 
basically amounts to, tyrannical control over 
software, and by extension, computers, the 
internet, and modern communication. It's 
domination of information- how it is accessed, 
produced, processed, and organised, is dangerous.

The open source software movement is challenging 
such domination. The movement, which developed 
Linux, the free operating system, for example, 
sees information as vital to human development 
and something that should not be for profit, but 
rather for personal development, awareness, and 
expression. Software is a social creation rather 
than a private creation, where users around the 
world can add code to code, and fix bugs on a 
daily basis rather than via regular, purchasable, upgrades.

Edgar Gutierrez, a software activist in Merida, 
Venezuela, said technology is simply, "the 
extension of the capacity of man" and argued that 
it shouldn't be limited to first world countries 
or those who can afford to pay $100 for a program 
in order to design, write, express, photograph, 
use the internet, communicate, translate, learn 
languages or maths or science. He said, "When 
[software] is not free, there is a massive inequality of power."

Leandro Leon, also from Merida, Venezuela, 
speaking to alternative media, described the four 
freedoms of open source software, freedoms denied 
by private software like that made by Microsoft:
    * The freedom to use the program for whatever 
you want (Licensed software generally stipulates 
what the program should be used for).
    * The freedom to study the program.
    * The freedom to modify it, that is- to 
improve it, add to the coding and get rid of bugs.
    * The freedom to distribute the program.

Leon argues that Linux, a system developed by 
many people, is a far superior a system to 
Windows. "The lack of restrictions makes it 
possible for many people to participate," he 
said, "like the difference between solving a 
problem alone or in a group." When lots of people 
are involved, they discover the bugs and fix them 
much quicker as well, Leon argued. "A private model doesn't work like that."

In September 2004 the Venezuelan government 
announced its decision to switch all public 
administration and national industry over to open 
source software. Chavez explained the move was 
for "national scientific independence, so that we 
do not depend on privately owned software. If 
knowledge does not have owners, then intellectual 
property is a trap set by neo-liberalism." The 
change over will also save the government a lot 
of money on software purchasing, money which can 
be put to better use on social programs, health, and education.

However, getting whole sections of administration 
to change over their operating systems and 
programs is not an easy process, and at last 
count, the aim was to have 50% of public 
administration using free software by 2007.

The government has also set up the National 
Centre for Development and Research of Open 
Source Technology (CENDITEL), which has centres 
dedicated to creating open source software, 
training in open source software creation, 
organising its distribution, and promoting 
awareness around its use, among other things. It 
has organised technology fairs where locals can 
bring their computers and have Linux installed for free.

However, clearly it's not useful to talk about 
open source software when computers are still too 
expensive for the majority of the world's 
population. To combat this, since 2000 the 
government has been constructing ‘infocentres', 
places with up to 80 computers, located in the 
barrios, in rural and isolated areas, and city 
centres. These centres also often offer free 
computer training and internet access, and there 
are currently almost 700 such centres across the country.

Now that's democratic.

Source URL (retrieved on Jul 16 2009 - 11:28): 

License: Published under a Creative Commons 
license (by-nc-nd). See creativecommons.org for more information.

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