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The Open Source Revolution Quietly Gains Ground in Latin America

selective focus photography of open signage

This is a golden age for Open Source Software (OSS) not only in the world but in Latin America as well. Since 2010, Latin America has posted the greatest increase in the share of region-based developers as the global growth of OSS becomes more evenly spread. That’s according to the latest (2021) study by GitHub, the open source development platform acquired in 2018 by Microsoft, a Verb client.

The Open Source movement started in the early 90s as a reaction to the restrictions of proprietary software and as a successor of the free software movement from the 80s. Basically, it refers to a computer program or application in which the source code is available to the public for use, modification or redistribution under an open source license and, usually, free of charge.

Right now, even tech giants like Microsoft and IBM have joined the movement in one way or another. Brazil is the Latin American country attracting the most open source developers, good for 6th place globally, considerably ahead of Colombia (22nd), Argentina (23rd), and Mexico (24th), GitHub says.

However, there’s still a long way to go. Latin America lags behind other regions and countries, such as the US and Canada, Western Europe, China, Australia, India, and Japan in the share of developers working there.  

So, what’s behind the surge of open source software in the region?

Javier Romano, director of cloud services & disruptive technologies at SONDA, the Chile-based IT services provider, points out in ComputerWeekly En Espanol, a publication owned by digital marketing services provider Tech Target, that Brazil and Argentina are the countries where the adoption of open source first started, due to some particular features of these markets and government incentives. The most experienced developers can remember Conectiva Linux, the Brazilian distributor of open source software Linux of the first half of the 2000s he remarks, adding that Chile is now going down the same path, where “the greatest development occurs in companies with the most innovative profile, where there are often people skilled in these technologies.”

Brazil, after all, was one of the first countries in the world to migrate massively to open source in public administration, when, 17 years ago, government agencies were ordered to switch from Microsoft Windows to Red Hat Linux, another OSS platform recently bought by IBM.

The impact of open source code goes beyond government. In Colombia, open source software has transformed digital banking. Colombia is the second Latin American country with the highest growth in mobile financial services, surpassing Mexico and ranking below Argentina, according to a recent report by Latinia, a banking software vendor. This has been achieved in large part thanks to open platforms that help modernize IT systems. “A large number of banks in Colombia are using use open source software to conduct their most important business, says Jaime Bejarano, General Manager of Red Hat Colombia, in a recent interview with Portafolio, a business publication.

Open Source technology has also transformed the healthcare industry. With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a DevOps platform, which allows faster access to key health information, laying the basis for an open data model in medicine. 

In Argentina, OSS enabled the Ministry of Health to design a nation-wide digital network that care centers use to access the data of six million patients, according to Bejarano, the Red Hat executive.

Open source initiatives are also becoming very important for Latin American cities that do not have large enough budgets to start data-driven projects from scratch, particularly in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil. Gradually, the value of collaboration and the exchange of experiences, information and open source codes has been used by the government to spur innovation.

“In the region, the use of open source has increased considerably as it is the most accessible option in terms of time and costs for companies to continue sharing information and generating new developments,” explains Luciano Alves, president of Zabbix for Latin America, which recently opened a new office in Mexico.

According to Jorge Payró, Country Manager of Red Hat Argentina, about 36% of enterprise software used in Latin America is open source, a figure that is expected to grow by 10% over the next two years.