Microsoft’s Trap

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The recent headline by the Cape Verdean newspaper “A Voz” regarding the threats of Microsoft to shut down the entire Cape Verdean e-government system that was painstakingly built over the last decade, should hardly be a surprise to anyone who has carefully followed this issue to this day.

Now, with these threats of shutdown, we entered another stage in the management of our e-government system that will be increasingly more expensive and more painful.
Indeed, from now on, nothing prevents Microsoft from inflating the amounts due a little bit every year, at will, knowing that Cape Verde is now stuck in a vicious trap. On the one hand, those hefty bills will come as an obvious consequence of software updates which usually force occasional hardware upgrades. On the other hand, our e-government system will inevitably grow to support other (new) branches of the Government and be able to offer other services and/or applications.
So, at last, Cape Verde is now firmly stuck in Microsoft’s trap and there is no way out of it, for the time being.
For a long time, from the very beginnings of Núcleo Operacional para os Sistemas de Informação (NOSI), I have been expressing my concern about the eagerness with which the people responsible for our national Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) infrastructure embraced Microsoft’s software and the firm decision they made to build our entire e-government system upon it.
If it was understandable that in 2004 the country had a strong urgency that some basic and essential features of an e-government system be available (namely, public registrars and notary services, a more streamlined and expedite business registration process, etc.) and such urgency made it impossible to avoid using the software that was more at hand (and that which NOSI’s programmers were more proeficient at – proprietary software), I don’t believe that it was reasonable the stubborness to stick with it in such a way to ignore (even despise) all the alerts and warnings that were made about the dangers of software lock-in, and what a small strategic step (of nurturing a small unit within NOSI to become proficient at Free and Open Source Software – FOSS) would eventually mean for the country as a whole.
Caution and a close monitoring of the steady rise and acceptance of FOSS, worldwide, would advise the establishment of that special unit within NOSI, whose main mission would be to study FOSS intensively as an alternative to proprietary software, so that one day it would possible for our country to make the same transition away from proprietary software that many countries have managed to do, led by the European Union and the countries of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Unfortunately, this was not done.
About six years ago I asked a NOSI manager about the reason for this decision to disregard FOSS and he replied that it had more to do with lack of time than with lack of strategic vision. In his view, NOSI had become involved in so many critical tasks that it could not afford to divert time and resources to the development of FOSS as a credible alternative.
But even if one accepts this poor explanation, it is, in my view, hardly justifiable or acceptable, what we have witnessed in the last decade, the conscious choice made by the people responsible for our national ICT infrastructure and NOSI’s leaders in particular, to act as Microsoft’s “poster boys“. Worse, they didn’t mind letting Microsoft’s propaganda machine present Cape Verde as a “poster country“, an “example to be followed in Africa” in all things related to the implementation of e-government systems.

Therefore, I strongly believe that if our country owes Microsoft any money, they owe us much more.
For over a decade this multinational shamelessly used NOSI’s work, based on its software, to enter the African market.

(To be continued…)

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