UK needs to be more open to open source

During a discussion in Whitehall, industry experts concluded that the government needs to embrace open source more.

Open Source

The UK is laging behind Europe and the US when it comes to the adoption of open source in government.

That's the conclusion reached today by a senior Ovum analyst during a roundtable discussion on the government's use of open source software.

Laurent Lachal, Ovum's open source research director, said that, from the start, Europe has been interested in the adoption of open source but has since dragged its heels.

"In the US there was some sort of prejudice against open source but in effect they used it from the start, just didn't talk about it. Now they are out," he said. "The UK started out like the US but didn't really warm up to it until recently."

He defended wider public sector adoption outside of the UK, saying: "It really does depend on the country but overall the public sector has been at the forefront of adoption."

Another problem raised in the discussion was the lack of home-grown talent to carry the torch of open source from our own shores.

John Powell, chief executive and founder of Alfresco, criticised government policies towards open source when they won't invest in the education.

"With open source you leverage the best brains globally but you specialise in your own geography," he said.

"[The UK Government] is dreaming of the chariots of fire and 1966. But before we won medals at Beijing we needed to train them at school. We will never be a leader in this area if we don't encourage them today."

Powell went on to say that the desire was there to lead in this area, but that it was a case of more talk than action at present.

"Maybe we want for the future to be a heritage island, a theme park for Americans to visit... But if not we need to realise the importance of intellectual property," he said, referring to Silicon Valley.

He added: "Don't we want to have an environment where we encourage the people with ideas to stay home, not go abroad?"

The use of open source is increasing in the public sector, with claims by Simon Field - chief technology officer at the Office of National Statistics (ONS) - that half the servers used were Apache. However, just five per cent of the vast government software budget is spent on open source, added Powell.

In February this year, the government released a new policy encouraging the use of open standards and open source, but Steve Shine from Ingres believes it hasn't taken affect yet.

"It is one of the best written policies I have seen. The problem however is policing it," he said.

"It's all a public process. At the moment people think it will go the same way as the policy in 2004 which was not enforced so nobody bothers and carries on as normal. For this to work it needs enforcement and public scrutiny when it is not adhered to."

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