Gates and Peru President sign IT agreement

Microsoft Corp., facing proposed legislation in Peru that would seriously hamper its sales to the government, on Monday signed a wide-ranging agreement with that country’s president that would involve Microsoft in a variety of government-sponsored technology projects.

The agreement comes at a moment when the Peruvian Congress is studying several bills that seek, among other things, to force Peruvian government agencies to choose open source software applications over commercial applications, such as the ones Microsoft makes, except in cases when an open source application can’t fill a specific computing need.

If a bill that included that provision becomes law, it’s not clear how it would affect the agreement signed Monday in Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters by Peru President Alejandro Toledo and Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.

The proponents of the open-source bills say that using open-source software would save Peru’s government money in software licenses and give it more flexibility to modify and distribute its applications. Opponents of the bill maintain that it goes against free-market rules and that it would harm Peru’s software development industry.

Monday’s agreement calls for Microsoft to donate resources, products, services and an undisclosed amount of cash to assist the Peruvian government with several IT initiatives, said Ricardo Adame, Microsoft’s manager of international public relations, on Monday. The Peruvian government isn’t expected to give anything in return, he added, since the spirit of the agreement is for Microsoft to support Peru’s initiatives, he said.

According to statements from Microsoft and the Peruvian government, the initiatives outlined in the agreement include:

• computer training for about 6,000 teachers from about 500 schools attended by about 200,000 students;

• the design and implementation of a government intranet to improve communication among public agencies, and of a Web portal to let citizens access government services and information online;

• the creation of three Microsoft training centres for training hundreds of IT instructors in Microsoft technology who can then teach thousands of IT professionals.

The agreement shares similarities with one Microsoft recently reached with Mexico’s government, Adame said. In the Mexico agreement, Microsoft is donating about US$100 million in software and training to bolster the government’s efforts to build out the country’s IT infrastructure and move its 100 million citizens online by 2006. That agreement sparked controversy in Mexico because open-source advocates feel it quashed their efforts to make open-source software a key part of the project.

In an apparent attempt to address the open source issue in Peru, Microsoft also agreed to share the source code of its Windows operating system with Peruvian universities for research and educational purposes, something that is already available in Peru for the Windows CE operating system, Microsoft said in its statement.

Enrique Sald