updated 9/28/2005 8:28:09 PM ET 2005-09-29T00:28:09

Swimming against the Microsoft tide, Peru's Congress has passed legislation that would require public institutions to consider open-source software as an alternative to proprietary systems such as Windows.

Peru joins Brazil, China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and other countries in actively moving toward the Linux operating system and other open-source alternatives that can mean millions of dollars in savings.

But a leading advocate for such alternatives said it remains to be seen whether President Alejandro Toledo will sign the bill into law.

"There are many associations on a national level that do not agree with this because they believe it will affect their interests," including revenues from the sale of proprietary systems, said Jose Cairo Gallardo, president of the Peruvian Free Software Association.

The government palace did not respond to phone and fax requests seeking the president's position on the issue.

In a move that went largely unnoticed, Congress voted 61-0 last Thursday to approve the legislation, which would prohibit any public institution from purchasing computer equipment that ties users to a particular type of software or "in any manner limits information autonomy."

It also bars public institutions from having a predetermined preference for either proprietary software, like Microsoft Corp.'s, in which the source code is mostly secret and licensing fees are charged for upgrades, or for open-source software, in which the underlying code is available to anyone wanting to revise or customize it.

Bids would have to be formally evaluated based on which type would be cheaper and better suited to particular needs, and the conclusions would be posted on the Internet, unless doing so could compromise national security.

Though there is currently no prohibition on using open-source software, developers find themselves at a great disadvantage to large companies like Microsoft, Cairo Gallardo said.

The Peruvian bill's sponsor, Congressman Edgar Villanueva, had pushed three years ago for a law to obligate all public institutions to convert exclusively to open-source software. Microsoft and several Peruvian software companies lobbied hard against the measure, which garnered little support from lawmakers.

The new legislation wouldn't mandate the software's use but rather would require its consideration.

Helen Baric, a spokeswoman at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, said the company already offers a low-cost, scaled-back version of Windows in Peru, as part of a government-backed PC Peru program aimed at increasing access to technology. Such programs are part of Microsoft's efforts to combat piracy and compete against cheaper, open-source programs in countries where technology use isn't so widespread. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Toledo has allied with the software industry before, appearing alongside Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in 2002 to announce the donation of $550,000 in money, software and consulting services to the Peruvian government for educational and "e-government" initiatives.

Toledo has 25 working days to sign the new bill into law or send it back to Congress with "observations" to modify it, which would set back its passage and possibly kill the initiative.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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