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A sad state of affairs: open source in the UKMatthew Aslett, February 13, 2008 @ 7:02 am ET
I stated yesterday that open source had not been widely adopted in the UK without really backing the statement up. Fortunately SiriusIT, the UK-based open source services firm, has revamped its site with a blog entry explaining the situation with the example of open source adoption in the schools sector.
“The ICT procurement framework for schools was introduced with the best of intentions. Becta, a Government quango, sought to bring structure to the school ICT sector…
“The events described had the effect of introducing extreme conservatism in the education sector. This had an important consequence. The ability to adapt to change was severely curtailed and development was placed under the control of distant third parties. At first this did not appear obvious nor did it seem a problem…
“Becta’s procurement framework mean that alternatives that could meet schools’ needs in terms of energy consumption, extending life of equipment, eliminating licence costs and taking advantage of new technologies such as the ultra portable low-cost laptops are not possible.”
As Glyn Moody notes: “The frightening thing is that exactly the same situation obtains in the world of government IT in the UK. It’s a systemic failing that is holding back open source uptake in this country, with huge knock on effects in terms of costs and failed implementations.
As I told Computerworld: “Although there are isolated examples of local governments taking a lead on exploring the benefits of open source – such as Birmingham and Bristol – central government has pursued a policy of theoretically considering open source alongside proprietary software, while entering into framework agreements with the likes of Microsoft and Oracle.”
The extent of the problem was revealed by this week’s publication of Alfresco’s Open Source Barometer. The survey of Alfresco’s community suggests that the UK is behind the USA, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy in terms of open source adoption. Why would this be? Certainly the procurement frameworks are a barrier to adoption in the public sector, but what is holding the UK’s private sector back.
To some extent I believe the problem lies in a lack of an identifiable national IT industry. Germany has Siemens and SAP and had SUSE Linux (which remains more popular in Germany than Red Hat), France has Mandriva and Objectweb and AtosOrigin (and for better or worse Bull has stayed afloat thanks to its contracts with the French government and businesses).
The UK now has Alfresco of course, and in the business software sector Sage and Misys, but ask the man on the street to name a British technology entrepreneur and the best you can probably hope for as a response is Alan Sugar or Clive Sinclair. Thanks to the lack of a language barrier and the UK’s lack of enterprise it is all too easy for US technology vendors to dominate in the UK.
As to what can be done about it, raising awareness of the potential benefits of open source would help. Organizations like Alfresco and SiriusIT are doing what they can, while Becta’s reporting of Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading and its recent promise to do more to promote the use of open source software within schools and colleges indicates that perhaps the tide is beginning to turn.
On the other hand, it has been nearly three years since a Becta report indicated that open source software could produce considerable cost savings for UK schools and Becta has only recently said that it will explore ways in which it can help open source suppliers participate in its framework agreements. Additionally Becta is only responsible for the education sector.
While organizations like the Open Source Academy have supported existing open source projects what the UK lacks is a driving force providing the momentum for more widespread adoption. Who will step up to the challenge?
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