Beyond a Doubt: Free Software for a Free Society

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Gustavo Duartes has a “skeptical take on software development and the business thereof” and he here writes why Brasil Loves Linux and GNU and all that jazz – this might be worth quoting:

You might be surprised to learn that Microsoft licenses are nearly twice as expensive in Brazil in absolute terms. I imagine Microsoft charges about the same and Brazil’s brutal tax burden makes up the rest (the taxes are built into the price). But the interesting result is the relative price of licenses in each society, captured as % of GNI per capita. As a proportion of national incomes, business licenses are nineteen times more expensive to Brazilian society and home licenses are fifteen times more expensive. While GNI per capita is not a perfect figure, it reflects the incomes people make, how much they spend to live, and how much they pay in taxes. It is a crucial number when it comes to public policy; it’s not hard to understand why rational policies must dodge licensing costs when possible.

If there’s any hope of widespread computer access, then surely we can’t expect people to spend 7.8% of their annual income on Microsoft software licenses alone. The burden on small businesses is also prohibitive. This order-of-magnitude difference is a fundamental problem that can’t be solved by piecemeal license giveaways. Suppose Microsoft gave out Windows and Office wholesale to all schools. Then what happens if those kids need a computer at home or in their parents’ business? License costs are simply out of whack with respect to most of society. Using Linux in public schools, rarely attended by richer kids, seems inescapable.