updated 3/30/2006 4:41:57 PM ET 2006-03-30T21:41:57

President Hugo Chavez, long critical of big transnational companies, is promoting free open-source software as an alternative to market-dominating Microsoft Corp.

Venezuela's science and technology ministry recently held the Latin American Free Software Installation Fair, an event promoting the use of the open-source Linux operating system and other nonproprietary programs over Microsoft's Windows. (MSNBC.com is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Groups of Linux users have been organizing similar events in other Latin American countries, including Argentina and Colombia, and the Venezuelan government has signed on as a promoter.

The technology ministry said the fair is part Venezuela's move toward "technological sovereignty, and taking advantage of knowledge for building national scientific independence."

Chavez, a vehement critic of the capitalist system, issued a decree in 2004 ordering all the country's public institutions to actively move toward open-source alternatives, hoping to save millions of dollars.

Government agencies have gradually been making the change.

Chavez says previous governments spent more on licensing fees for proprietary software than social programs to fight poverty.

The Venezuelan government hasn't focused direct criticism on Microsoft, but Chavez has regularly condemned "the hegemony of the multinationals" — saying many big companies are to blame for putting profits above the needs of poor people across Latin America.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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