The UK government is biased against the use of open-source technology, a situation that could limit the computing skills of the future workforce, according to experts attending the launch of the National Open Centre (NOC) this week.
Speaking at the launch event at the Houses of Parliament, John Pugh MP argued that there is “widespread ignorance” within the public sector about open-source.
“Large tranches of Whitehall don’t know what open-source is,” Pugh argued. “We need a partnership approach for public-sector procurement and open-source scores well in this respect. But open-source has its enemies and its enemies are very close to government, including those at the top of government who are intending to stay there.”
Pugh, who is the primary sponsor of an Early Day Motion on Software that promotes the use of open-source technology in education, warned that the focus on proprietary technology within schools and universities could be detrimental to the UK workforce of the future. “I fear that children in our schools can do PowerPoint slides and use Word, and all the other things that children in other countries can do,” he said. “But they won’t have the understanding of the fundamentals of computing.”
Pugh conceded that there were issues with open-source technology that needed to be addressed. “There are concerns about the longevity and sustainability of open-source vendors, and there are some variable, uneven products that we wouldn’t want schools having to come to terms with,” he explained. “And open-source isn’t always so good at salesmanship.”
Pugh also called on open-source supporters to unite to help promote acceptance. “There are divisions within the open-source community. But it’s not a moral principle, it’s a design principle,” he argued. “There’s no point in hardening divisions between people who have [different approaches].”
Ed Downs, research manager at the National Computing Centre, a founding member of the NOC, agreed that there was a need to tackle open-source divisions. “There are lots of different points of view, but we need to try and get through the heat and focus on clear issues to make progress,” he added.