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A Missed Opportunity for Bolivian “Quipus” Laptops?

Categories: Latin America, Bolivia, Technology

Image of a quipus. Image on Flickr by user Phil Dokas [1] (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The Bolivian government recently announced a new program where high school students attending their final year will have access to a new laptop. These computers, called “Quipus,” are being assembled in the city of El Alto. The term comes from a traditional Andean form of record keeping [2] on a series of knots.

Blogger and software developer Fernando Balderrama applauds the initiative and sees the benefit of providing access to technology to more sectors of society. In his blog, he examines the comparative costs of the assembled computers to those that can be obtained in stores. However, he is puzzled why the new laptops will arrive with installed proprietary software [3]. He writes:

Supuestamente el Gobierno promueve el uso de software libre, y buscan que Bolivia tenga soberanía tecnológica en base al software libre. Pero parece que esto es solamente en palabras, ya que los hechos dicen otra cosa. Las laptops quipus ensambladas en Bolivia vienen con Windows, el cual además de ser software privativo, encarece el costo final por el pago de licencias que deben hacer a Microsoft.

Supposedly the Government promotes the use of free software and seeks technological sovereignty through the use of free software. However, it appears that these are just words, because their actions send a different message. The quipus laptops assembled in Bolivia come with Windows, which in addition to being proprietary software, increases the final cost due to the payments to Windows to obtain the licenses.

However, in the comments section, Sergio Bowles, General Manager of Quipus, clarifies that the laptops will come with a dual boot option for Windows and Linux, but some others still have their doubts and dismiss the argument that students must also learn Windows because much of the business and academic world still relies on that operating system.