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Open code

The use of open software grows within companies and among researchers

CenpraInVesalius: open source program to show medical images in 3D formatCenpra

Studying and altering software source codes is the kind of work that has increasingly seduced IT users in the scientific and business communities. This trend was confirmed during the International Open Software Forum/FISL held in the city of Porto Alegre, State of Rio Grande do Sul, in April. The event brought together more than 7.4 thousand people from 21 countries, including business people, IT professionals, students and teachers. The source code is the main attraction of open software; it contains the instructions for the functioning of the program, which is open and can be modified or adapted, in contrast to the so-called proprietary programs with closed codes and license fees that users must pay. Far from being restricted to small groups, many companies – as could be seen at the event – showed great interest in this system. These companies included Google, Telefônica, Intel, Sun Microsystems and Yahoo Brasil.

There is nothing wrong in using open software to make money, said the businessmen visiting the stands at the trade fair. Luiz Fernando Maluf, senior director of government strategies at Sun Microsystems Latin America, says that the decision to use open software is a business model. “I can prove mathematically that it works,” he says, referring to the Java open system created by Sun as an example; nowadays, Java has roughly 30 million developers spread all over the world. In his opinion, Sun would never have achieved its current status – the company ranks as number three in the global servers market – if it had chosen to earn its profits by registering patents. He explains that the involvement of so many people in the program reduces development costs and speeds up a product’s entry into the market.

The given model, based on the sale of services and not on patents, explains the work of seduction by the big companies in their search for talent, especially in Brazil. Google, for example, created the Google Summer of Code, an international internship program that brings together approximately 1,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students, and two thousand advisors from nearly one hundred countries to work on projects involving free and open source codes. The projects selected by Google are suggested by companies or entities from around the world. In the last competition, the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) was number two in terms of enrollment, with one of the highest acceptance rates in the world. Unicamp sent 29 representatives to the event; projects submitted by ten of them were accepted. In the opinion of professor Ricardo Anido from Unicamp’s Computer Institute, Brazil has the skills to position itself very strongly in a market niche that is more sophisticated than the code generation market. More than being merely programmers, Brazilians have the qualifications to add more knowledge to the project, by offering comprehensive solutions. “It is difficult to compete with India and China pricewise. But we can offer better quality,” he says.

The Brazilians’ skills in developing and publicizing open software became evident at Fisl. “Brazil’s leadership in this field is the result of a successful partnership between the government, industry and the community of developers,” said Jon “Maddog” Hall, the president of Linux International, a non-profit organization that promotes open software. In his opinion, the drop in computer prices is not aligned with the high price of software, and Brazil is an example of the development of solutions on a large scale with open code programs, which reduces costs. He mentioned Caixa Econômica Federal/CEF (the Federal Government’s Savings Bank) as one of the most outstanding examples. People who pay their utility bills or bet on the lottery use terminals that run on the Linux operating system, installed at the CEF lottery booths. “Knowing about this makes no difference,” says Julio Schneiders Neto, manager of IT at CEF. In his opinion, it is important for the user to realize that the open source code makes the terminals run more smoothly and increases the quality of transactions at peak times. “Before we migrated to open source code, a transaction took an average of eight to ten seconds to be concluded. Now the average time is three to four seconds,” says Schneiders Neto. “We have managed to save roughly R$ 10 million since 2006 on corporate licenses alone, which we would have had to pay because of the proprietary software.”

CanpraInexpensive science
Another outstanding event at the 2008 Forum was the presence of researchers who chose to use open software and took their work to the public domain. One of the most successful examples is the InVesalius software, used to produce three-dimensional medical images. The program was created in 2000, when commercial proprietary software was already available. This proprietary software produced the three-dimensional reconstruction of CAT scan images. “When I saw the program in 2002, I realized that it was a huge step forward in terms of improved diagnosis, health care plans, and surgeries, because of how easy it made it to get 3D images,” says dental surgeon Francisco Roland, an associate researcher at the Renato Archer Research Center (CenPRA), from the city of Campinas, where the software was created.

In the case of InVesalius, the Cenpra team refuted the criticism of open software – that it is inexpensive because the quality is worse than that of proprietary software. InVesalius was compared to Vitrea, whose license fee runs to thousands of dollars. “After a statistical analysis of the data, we found that the performance of the 3D craniometrical model of the InVesalius 2.0 did not show any statistical differences in terms of the linear and angular measurements, when compared to the standard and to the Vitrea,” says Marcelo Sales, a researcher from the Labi3D of the Radiology area of the Dental School of the University of São Paulo (USP). Both allow surgeons to conduct detailed planning, thus facilitating the diagnosis of complex cases. InVesalius can be downloaded from the Software Público Brasileiro (Brazilian Public Software) website ( In addition to being used for human health issues, the open source code enables the software’s adaptation to other fields, such as veterinary medicine, archeology and paleontology. “The tendency is that in time the quality of the InVesalius, much like the other examples of open software, will become better than that of proprietary software, because the community of collaborators is constantly growing and improving the code,” says computer engineer Tatiana Martins, one of the InVesalius programmers.

However, open software does have some problems. “Some of the software might put off users because the graphic interface is still crude, which makes it difficult for users to interact with the program,” says Wellington Martins, a professor at the Computer Sciences Department of the Catholic University of Goiás. Professor Martins lectured on the BioPerl project, used to implement the processing phases of the Genome Project. Martins states that open software is strategic and that, concerning genome research, it is now considered standard in the field.