Wow! What a couple of weeks!
On August 21, just 10 days ago (it feels like 10 weeks ago), ABNT, the Brazilian standards organization, held the final meeting to decide whether to Yay or Nay OOXML. Thanks to efforts from the community, from the government, and even from businesses that didn't sell out to the obvious highest bidder, truth happened. In spite of desperate protests from Microsoft employees and supporters, unable to address the technical comments that were brought up, consensus emerged that the vote ought to be "NO with comments." Given all the ballot stuffing, vote buying and other dirty tricks played by Microsoft all over the world, including in Brazil, this was an amazing accomplishment. As at most a loud expectator, I can comfortably voice my congratulations and my gratitude to everyone involved.
Today, Aug 31, the Brazilian vote was sent to ISO, where the votes are going to be counted until Sunday. I hope the Brazilian vote included not only the 63 approved technical comments prepared by the discussion group, but also the 2 most important technical comments that had been initially dismissed as non-technical, before ISO was consulted and responded that they were legitimate and acceptable as technical arguments after all.
If they're not included, the Brazilian vote might still switch to a YES should the other 63 comments be addressed (with some difficulty), but only if these 2 additional comments are included will the standard be effectively a Free Open Standard. We'll see. /me crosses fingers.
hgask sdh sskal, jgs hsdjkg......
/me uncrosses fingers, for typing with crossed fingers doesn't really make much sense.
We were still celebrating when we got the news that, at the same time the meeting was held at ABNT, Microsoft was celebrating a pact in Brazil similar to one of the many provisions of the pact it had signed in Chile just a few months before: offer software licenses and training to teachers and young minds in need of a job. It's truly amazing, if disheartening, that governments would commit the next generation to work, for the rest of their lives, for a foreign monopoly, for as little as R$4,00 (about US$2.00), and in funny money while at that.
The pact at hand involves Microsoft Brasil, the Brazilian Ministry of Labor and Employment (MTE), and Oxigênio, an NGO that trains young people and their teachers on both Free and non-Free Software. The deal is supposed to be part of an MTE programme to help poor young Brazilians get their first job. Microsoft is offering as little as R$4 million, in software licenses that cost it nothing and training material that costs it nothing, to have as many as 1 million such Brazilians trained to use this Microsoft software such that, when they get their first job, that's all the software they're trained to use.
I'm pretty sure the license offer won't extend to their first employers, eh? What a great, zero-risk and high-margin investment! Hey, you know what? I'm going to get into it myself. I hereby offer 1 gazillion licenses of gNewSense for educational (or any other) use in Brazil (or anywhere else), for a total donation of US$127Gz (US$127 for a fully-functional and freedomful and unencumbered operating system is not bad, is it? out of my own pocket, no less!) I'll figure out the rest of the business plan later, but you get the idea, no?
Anyhow, FSFLA started organizing the community to protest this pact, but more urgent matters drew our attention temporarily away.
Shame? Joy? Anxiety?
Receita Federal (SRF), with whom we've had our encounters as part of our campaign against the software it imposes upon Brazilian citizens, has long been a bastion of proprietary software in the Brazilian government. Last Monday, Aug 27, we learned it planned on purchasing, on Aug 30, 40K+ licenses of Microsoft Office 2007. Yeah, that's right, the one that introduces the very file format that the Brazilian society had rejected just the week before, and a brand new user interface that pretty much obsoletes all training for earlier releases.
The alleged reasons? Users are already trained (in the older versions). TCO studies funded by Microsoft. Limitations of ancient versions of OpenOffice.org, caused by the very fact that Microsoft Office's formats are proprietary. The statement that any file converter to a competing file format will be obsolete by the time it reaches the market, because Microsoft keeps changing its file formats. Yes, unbelievable!, this is listed as a reason to use Microsoft's software, not to run away from it! Fallacious reasoning that the slow adoption of GNU/Linux and OpenOffice.org, caused in great part by this very tactics of introducing incompatibilities, indicate they're going to remain niche operating system and application.
My favorite "reason" is their qualification of Free Software adoption initiatives as adventures, claiming that "Receita is so critical that its functionality can't be posed at risk under any circumstances whatsoever", and that "Any error or interruption of processing could place the image of the entire government at risk." I guess they didn't see e.g. the WGA outage coming. You know, the one that left many MS-Windows users out in the cold the weekend before we learned about this public tender? If SRF couldn't be using MS-Windows, for the reasons they stated themselves, why are they are even thinking of purchasing licenses of Microsoft Office? To run it on Wine? (Didn't they manage to break that again?)
And then, what's the point of a public tender for something that's lists products by brand, rather than by requirements, such that only Microsoft could possibly win, no matter which of its resellers that pretend to compete gets the contract?
One more time, the community got together to stop this. Several requests to stop the public tender were rejected using the same flawed excuses. Associação Software Livre (!= FSFLA), that organizes FISL, requested an audience, for itself and any other Free Software-related NGOs, with Mr Nelson Machado, the Executive Secretary of the ministry that controls SRF.
Rather than meeting NGOs, on Aug 29 Mr Nelson Machado met Mr Marcos Mazoni, president of SERPRO, the federal data processing company, and Mr Vitor Machado, of SRF. They got out of the meeting with an agreement to postpone the tender for a week, such that proposals more in line with the federal government's strategic decision of adopting Free Software could be brought up. SERPRO, that had already started taking steps towards Free Software before, has adopted a far more proactive stance in this regard since Mr Mazoni took office, a few months ago.
Meanwhile, NGOs and citizens are organizing to counter the excuses that support the adoption Microsoft Office at SRF, and to strengthen the arguments for switching to BROffice.org, the name OpenOffice.org adopted in Brazil after a trademark dispute.
Great steps overall, but no firm decision yet. ISO will announce the outcome of the OOXML vote on Sept 2; the MTE/Microsoft deal still holds lots of headaches and surprises ahead, and it's not at all obvious that the delay in SRF's tender will be enough to switch it over to a Free office suite. Lots of work to do.
But I'm very happy to be in a country in which it feels like we can make a difference. In which the Free Software community can reach decision makers, or at least those who can influence decision makers, and get a feeling that it's possible to stop bad things from happening when we work together, and to even turn them into good things.
It's been a very exciting, even if very consuming, couple of weeks. I'll be away for most of the weekend, on family matters. I suggest those who can to take some rest as well, because we'll need a lot of energy and effort to keep the ball rolling in the right direction. We must not fool ourselves and think we've won these battles, let alone the war. We're gaining ground, but it's still a long way. If we relax, we risk losing it all back. Let's recharge batteries and then get back to the good fight. It's well worth it.