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Brazil - the Global Java Leader?

Posted by webmink on April 14, 2005 at 5:52 PM PDT

I've just left an exciting week in Brazil where I had the honour to be a part of the strong and extensive Java family there. I've written before about Brazil so you may already know the respect I have for the steps the government there is taking to promote community-based software development. But last week there was an important new development, at the "Café Brasil" Java event in the national capital, Brasília, that once again sets Brazil in pole position as a Java innovator. In case you're not following the story, let me fill a few details for you before I tell you about the news.

JUG Power

To give you an idea of the strength of the Java community in Brazil, the world's largest Java User Group is based there. The Sociedade de Usários Java, "SouJava"1 boasts almost 18,000 members and has now spread from its original base in São Paulo to be a national organisation (one of the two Java user groups in Brasília affiliated with it last week at Cafe Brasil taking its reach even further). And SouJava is just one of the Java User Groups in the country - there are many others, each doing excellent work with a huge community invested with the usual Brazilian enthusiasm and energy.

Last year, a group of Brazilians formed the Javali project2, an ambitious project (with source hosted here on to create the software needed to faciliate the government vision of an inclusive, technology-assisted future society in Brazil. All the software in that project - from digital TV to a JRE - will be Free software under open source licenses. The project was launched with a day conference alongside the huge international FISL free software conference.

Back in January SouJava joined the Java Community Process, having incorporated as a non-profit organisation partly for that purpose. That step augmented the (already strong) presence of Brazilians in the JCP, where they are part of a small and exclusive club of individual experts serving on JSR expert groups. I was very impressed when SouJava did that, because it meant the experience they were gaining through the Javali project could be shared with the global Java community.

Then a few weeks ago the president of SouJava, Bruno Souza, was elected to the new board of the Open Source Initiative. At one stroke, OSI gained a representative from the developing world, a passionate Java advocate and the leader of a huge freedom community. I think they made an excellent choice.

Government Engagement

Last week, the Café Brazil event brought together politics and philosophy to accompany open source Java software. I was privileged to join a stellar line-up of speakers in front of a huge and energetic audience in Brasília. We heard from James Gosling, from Sergio Amadeu (president of ITI and advisor to the Brazilian government on ICT), from Onno Kluyt of the JCP, from Dalibor Topic (maintainer of the GPLed Kaffe virtual machine), from Tim Boudreau of NetBeans and many others. I spoke about the philosophy and model of open source that underlies Sun's extensive open source activity3. The event was followed by days of training in Java technology and the Netbeans Platform and was the fruit of months of work by its organisers, who did a splendid job.

The event reflects the fact that the Java platform is used extensively throughout the country, both for private and for government applications. Java applications provide the perfect vehicle for development alongside the extensive use of open systems such as the Solaris and Linux variants of Unix. Open systems like these are set to become more and more common in a society that has rejected Microsoft's products so assertively that the only path left for the head of Microsoft Brazil is to attempt libel actions against government employees. Using the Java platform allows application development to proceed independently of platform selection, allowing free choice rather than the usual "platform defines tools defines architecture" lock-in.

Although there are extensive civil systems (especially at the banks), the crowd in Brasília was dominated by federal employees working on Java systems. As examples, the Ministry of Health has a huge and innovative project that was recognised with a Duke Award at last year's JavaOne conference, and the Ministry of Finance uses a Java system to allow connected Brazilians to file their taxes, including from their mobile phones - James Gosling tried the application last week and was bowled over by it.

Growing the JCP

So to the new news, which I already flagged in my Sunmink blog. The agency responsible for that tax filing system, SERPRO, has applied to join the JCP. That makes the Brazilian government the first in the world to join the JCP in such a significant way. There was a high-profile announcement of this at Café Brasil, featuring Onno Kluyt for the JCP.

I think this is a huge step for the JCP. Gaining global developer involvement from SouJava was important, but the addition of such an important end-user government adds a depth the JCP has lacked. Moreover, the stance of the Brazilian government in treating software as a primary issue of sovereignty, with open source as its main expression, makes their membership a profound validation of the steps the JCP is taking towards open source. While nay-sayers worldwide strain over semantic gnats, the irrepressible Brazilians get on with spearheading open source Java initiatives. SouJava, SERPRO, Brazil - you are most welcome, thank-you for your commitment.

  1. The name means "I Am Java" in Portuguese.
  2. "Javali" is a contraction of the expression "Java Livre", meaning "Free Java", but also means "wild boar" in Portuguese hence the cute mascot.
  3. The synopsis is that 'open source' can be modelled as a software commons managed by a community of software craftspeople who use the commons to create richness (monetary and otherwise) and in the process enrich the commons to the benefit of all. I believe this model to provide the best basis for understanding most other aspects of open source including licensing and governance. I'll write more about this another time.

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