Peru goes GNU.
May 2, 2002 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Peru goes GNU. And I quote: "You may have heard about this if you watch the free software news, but I just want to repeat it for anyone who hasn't. The Peruvian government has introduced legislation requiring government offices to use free software; Microsoft is unhappy; and a member of the Peruvian Congress has written a response which I highly recommend reading, in which he explains in strong terms why it's out of the question for the government of a democratic nation to use proprietary software."
posted by BGM (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

It'll probably cost more money just to train the poor fellas. Maybe they did this to cut down on gaming :)
posted by aaronshaf at 12:00 PM on May 2, 2002

It'll probably cost more money just to train the poor fellas.

It certainly will cost more to train a UNIX systems expert than to train a MSCE. The question is, how many MSCEs is a single UNIX expert worth. I'd say between 5 and a baker's dozen, but it's really an angels on the head of a pin sort of question...

Maybe they did this to cut down on gaming :)

Har har. Actually, they did it: "To guarantee the free access of citizens to public information." The argument is that tying public data to a proprietary format, particularly a format that is controlled by a single international corporation, puts the freedom of access to said data at constant risk. If citizens can only get the budget for a governmental deparatment in Excel format, and they can't afford Excel (or Microsoft refuses to sell them Excel), then they don't really have access to the budget. Freedom of information requires open data formats. It's a really elegant argument, actually.

The other argument is one of security. We can argue all day about whether free software is really more secure than proprietary software though, and we won't come to a satisfactory conclusion. This, however, does not change the fact that free software is more secure than proprietary software.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:16 PM on May 2, 2002

We can argue all day ... This, however, does not change the fact that free software is more secure than proprietary software.

mr roboto, I salute you.
posted by ericost at 12:22 PM on May 2, 2002

When this story first came out, the spin on it I saw was that the poor silly Peruvians didn't realize that free software wasn't really free, and were looking for a one-shot money saving solution that they would soon regret. This letter indicates that this is not a major factor in the decision.

Also, this quote (among others):

It is necessary to stress that there is no position more anti-competitive than that of the big software producers, which frequently abuse their dominant position, since in innumerable cases they propose as a solution to problems raised by users: "update your software to the new version" (at the user's expense, naturally); furthermore, it is common to find arbitrary cessation of technical help for products, which, in the provider's judgement alone, are "old"; and so, to receive any kind of technical assistance, the user finds himself forced to migrate to new versions (with non-trivial costs, especially as changes in hardware platform are often involved). And as the whole infrastructure is based on proprietary data formats, the user stays "trapped" in the need to continue using products from the same supplier, or to make the huge effort to change to another environment (probably also proprietary).

makes me think that we need Congressman Nunez in America way more than Peru needs Microsoft.
posted by hackly_fracture at 12:49 PM on May 2, 2002

That's the most cogent thing I've ever seen said/written by any politician on computer-related subjects.
I'm glad to see that their are some lucid, informed politicians in Peru . And in Latin America. And hell, the world.
posted by signal at 12:55 PM on May 2, 2002

This, however, does not change the fact that free software is more secure than proprietary software.

That's a pretty bold statement. Proprietary software does not equal Microsoft. It also includes Apple, every non-OSS software company out there, commercial unixes, etc.
posted by skallas at 1:56 PM on May 2, 2002

If you can read Spanish, there' all sorts of good info on the gnu-peru website. It seems this was co-ordinated with extensive help from Gnu-Peru, The Linux User's group of Peru, Argentinian Linux User's group and, yes, Richard Stallman himself.

The primary concern seems to be, not price or security, but control. This Wired article summed it up fairly well.

Oh, I stumbled on a photo of the Peruvian Congress with congressman nunez in it.
posted by vacapinta at 2:03 PM on May 2, 2002

skallas --

The point is that peer-reviewed source code makes for more secure systems. This follows from the notion that an encryption system that produces code that cannot be cracked even if everyone knows how it works is more secure than an ecryption systems that is difficult to crack only because it's secrets are not generally available. It makes a lot of sense to me.

Apple, Sun, HP, IBM and Microsoft all have some pretty shaky security histories compared to OpenBSD and you can check bugtraq to verify it. Still, all of this requires good, solid SysAdmin skill and discipline to make it work.
posted by n9 at 2:19 PM on May 2, 2002

If the transnational software companies decide not to compete under these new rules of the game, it is likely that they will undergo some decrease in takings in terms of payment for licences; however, considering that these firms continue to allege that much of the software used by the State has been illegally copied, one can see that the impact will not be very serious.

posted by eckeric at 2:27 PM on May 2, 2002

Actually I believe OpenBSD is an exception. They audit their software. They just don't make the code available like Linux does. Also, no where is OpenBSD or any BSD mentioned in this article. The article is Linux based for the most part and Linux boxes are not immune to being rooted.

Linux and some of the popular apps that it runs do have quite a history of security exploits. Kudos to all the people who contribute to OSS projects and release security patches quickly, but lots of OSS projects are for shit. For every Apache there's a few hundred half-baked apps that will never get finished or patched timely or at all.

If you were to do a real side by side analysis of a good sample of commercial vs free software I doubt you would be defending the statement that free software is more secure than commercial software. Perhaps in theory, but in practice things aren't so perfect. GNU/OSS/GPL is not perfect nor is it the cure all its promoters would like us to believe it is. It certainly has its upside and it does have its downside. Downplaying that downside is just bad business.

Still, all of this requires good, solid SysAdmin skill and discipline to make it work

Sure. Then again if we're just concentrating on security a good system admin could secure an NT network.
posted by skallas at 2:46 PM on May 2, 2002

This is excellent. I'm glad people are waking up to the political implications of vendor lock-in as expressed by file formats. I hope this works out well for Peru as it is definitely a good long-term decision. The Korean government is also moving in this direction and there has been talk for a couple of years now that Brazil will do something similar.

posted by Mars Saxman at 3:21 PM on May 2, 2002

skallas: your point that 90% of all software is shit is noted. Neither Unix derived systems of Win NT derived systems have a monopoly on crap software. Oh and Apple aren't exactly against open source with the Darwin kernel are they?

The point about open file formats is an exceedingly persuasive one. Undocumented file formats are probably going to be about as deadly as the DMCA/EUCD things in a hundred years time for extracting digital information. I wish the UK government would be a little less wishy washy about it all. This doesn't mean you have to stop using Windows, there are free software packages available for those operating systems too such as Apache 2 and 1, just don't use proprietry formats.

disclaimer, I am the UK Marketing Contact for so I'm a big fan of those open file formats
reclaimer: we rock! download for free today!
posted by nedrichards at 3:26 PM on May 2, 2002

Oh and Apple aren't exactly against open source with the Darwin kernel are they?

Never said they were.
posted by skallas at 3:32 PM on May 2, 2002

True. Just totally misread that, apologies.
posted by nedrichards at 3:34 PM on May 2, 2002

n9 et al... my reading of the letter lead me to believe the security in question is not security against hackers, but rather security against the software creator(s)... the pertinent quote being:

To guarantee national security or the security of the State, it is indispensable to be able to rely on systems without elements which allow control from a distance or the undesired transmission of information to third parties. Systems with source code freely accessible to the public are required to allow their inspection by the State itself, by the citizens, and by a large number of independent experts throughout the world. Our proposal brings further security, since the knowledge of the source code will eliminate the growing number of programs with *spy code*.
posted by silusGROK at 3:43 PM on May 2, 2002

Dayam, that's good rhetoric. And a great translation as well!
posted by kfury at 3:53 PM on May 2, 2002

nedrichards: Just downloaded and installed 1.0 today. Haven't had much time to play with it yet, but the little bit I looked at was very, very nice.
posted by NsJen at 4:41 PM on May 2, 2002

I just downloaded open office today and I tried out a few weeks ago as well. At least on the Windows side there are a few things that really bug me. Probably because it does not use the native Windows user interface code, it doesn't seem to be very compatible with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I also feel that their time would be better spent creating integration utilities for existing bibliographic software. The combination of these two factors are pretty much deal-killers for me at this time, although I really want for it to succeed. (Both of these problems are listed as issues on the website by the way.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:58 PM on May 2, 2002

skallas:a good system admin could secure an NT network.

All other things being equal, I agree. However, I think there are two wrinkles here.

First, by promoting NT-based systems as "easy to administer", MS have ensured that proportionately fewer NT admins are at the same standard as their Unix/Linux brethren. So there aren't as many good NT sysadmins.

Second, I observe that many NT-based server products from MS are heavily interdependant in a way that you don't see with Unix. So you install Exchange or SQL, and waddya know, you've got parts of IIS in there as well. Staying on top of what your box is doing, and running the fewest possible services with the least possible privilege is harder with NT-based services. IMHO, YMMV, of course. So the good sysadmin has a harder job.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:11 PM on May 2, 2002

skallas: You're incorrect about OpenBSD not releasing their code. The code is available by CVS, by CVSup, by CTM (email), or on the web. What BSD licensing does is allow you to make changes to the code, distribute binaries, and not necessarily redistribute the source changes. All OpenBSD-audited code is freely available for the taking, and it's quite easy to get.
posted by elvolio at 8:55 AM on May 3, 2002

elvolio: I don't think skallas was saying that OpenBSD code isn't publically available. Rather, he was saying that they don't rely just on that public availability to ensure its security. They do real security audits on all the code. Therefore, it's unfair to use OpenBSD as a proof of the improved security of open source in general.
posted by moss at 12:00 PM on May 3, 2002

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