February 19, 2008 / 4:58 PM / 10 years ago

Russian teacher takes on global software giants

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian schoolteacher who became a popular hero after he was put on trial for using pirated Microsoft programs has launched a campaign against the software giant’s global domination.

During his trial, Russian media portrayed Alexander Ponosov as a hero in a David-and-Goliath battle against big corporations. Russian President Vladimir Putin and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev spoke out in his support.

Ponosov announced on Tuesday he is founding a lobby group whose aim is to reduce Russia’s dependence on software produced by firms like Microsoft and instead promote so-called open-source software.

The junior schoolteacher, who lives in a remote village in the Perm region in the Ural mountains, said the domination of big software companies was a threat to national security.

“Our dependence on Western proprietary software is a risk for us. We are, in effect, losing the independence of this country,” Ponosov told a news conference.

“To quote (Tsar) Alexander III, Russia has only two allies, its army and its navy.”

He said the answer was open-source software, where in many cases programs are written by thousands of volunteers, the code that lies behind the software is in the public domain and no one owns the intellectual rights.

Software produced by firms like Microsoft, Oracle Corp. and Apple is owned by the companies, which generate huge revenues from selling the licenses.

“What would you buy for your child if you want them to grow up to be bright -- a pretty toy car or a construction set?” said Ponosov.

“A pretty car that you cannot take apart is like proprietary software. The construction set is open-source software.”

Ponosov added: “I have not been using Microsoft software on my computer at home for more than a year.”

The teacher was fined half his monthly wage last year when a local court found him guilty of installing unlicensed Microsoft Windows and Office software on computers used by pupils at his school.

He said the software was already installed on the computers when they were delivered by a sub-contractor, and that he did not know the licenses were faked.

Ponosov said his organization, called the Russian Centre for Free Technologies, would lobby the Russian parliament to adopt legislation encouraging the use of open-source software.

Russia’s government has already said it plans to switch schools to open-source programs.

Open-source software packages, such as the popular Linux program, have become more widespread over the past decade and taken market share away from Microsoft. The software giant has said some of the packages violate its patents.

Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mary Gabriel

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