Brazilian PC scheme founders on Linux, MS politics

Plus you can buy a cheaper PC in a shop

By Paulo Rebêlo in Brazil: Monday 21 February 2005, 09:18
The Inquirer, 21.fevereiro.2005

THE BRAZILIAN GOVERNMENT is once again trying to push a cheap PC for lower income people who can’t afford a reasonable computer. It appears to be politics which is holding up implementation of the scheme.

The only thing in common among all the digital inclusion projects supported by the government, until now, is that none of them have worked. Some didn’t even leave the desks of the bureaucrats, but did hit the Brazilian technology press with terrific reviews, as usual.

Last year, government officials started a commotion about the cheap PC and planned to release it in December, for Christmas. The project halted and was rescheduled for March 2005. Now, they officially say it will be launched only in April. But we wonder if the papers will shuffle more than a few millimetres from the desks of the bureaucrats once more.

The current project is now called ‘Connected PC’ and intends to put machines on shelves for US$520 (R$ 1.400 Brazilian reals), but people can split the payment over 24 months paying as little as US$18 per month. During the first negotiations between government and manufacturers, last year, the bill of materials of such a cheap PC was no more than US$ 370 (R$ 1000).

Hardware and Software

But there’s no details on which processor such machines will use. According to the National Institute of Information Technology (ITI) in Brazil (the main partner of the government on the project), the basic version includes 128MB RAM and a 15-inch monitor. No hard disk details yet.

The main operating system will be a friendly version of a Linux distribution in Portuguese, probably Freedows. ITI wants to bundle 26 applications: games, text editors, browsers, e-mail, calculator and more. All free software.

However, ITI’s hard work to keep Microsoft out of the way hasn’t been working out too well. Two weeks ago, the government announced there will be at least two more editions of the Connected PC. Besides the basic and cheapest version, there will be one including Linux and Windows XP Professional and one company-oriented edition with Windows XP Professional only.

Adopting Linux as the main operating system for newbie users became quite a dilemma among tech professionals, government, companies and manufacturers. Some say it will work perfectly, since Linux distributions nowadays are just like Windows – and some say it will happen the same thing that occurred in Asia: people will download (or ‘borrow’ from a friend) a pirated-version of Windows and install it.

A very expensive Cheap PC

We did the obvious and went into local stores trying to configure a cheap computer for U$ 520 (R$ 1400), the same price of the Connected PC. Here’s what we got:

AMD Sempron 2200+
Motherboard with integrated video, modem, fax and Ethernet
128 MB RAM
40 GB hard drive
15-inch monitor
Basic CDRW
Bundled kit with mouse, keyboard, speakers and CPU case

The government’s “Connected PC” won’t come with CDRW and there are no details on processor and hard disk. Some believe it will be a 20GB disk and have a basic CD-ROM drive only. The funny thing is that the Connected PC will gain government subventions and tax relief, while commercial PCs sold in stores don’t have all these facilities. Someone might profit a lot from this. The answer is guessing exactly who stands to benefit. µ