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UK Digital Future to Fail Without Government Focus

Article date: Mon, 08 Aug 2011 11:01 GMT

UKFast Software Round Table

The Government needs to invest in training developers in open source platforms if the country is to stand a chance of competing with its American and European counterparts in digital development.

Open source software is extremely valuable for web companies in the UK but many are experiencing skills shortages that are stalling their growth.

Experts in software development came together at a round table discussion held by hosting provider UKFast. They agreed that open source frameworks are crucial for the continued growth of the UK's technology and digital industries and support from Government should be more forthcoming.

Stuart Howarth, co founder and director of KOKO Digital said: "We use open source frameworks to develop games. Open source is available for developers to download and use but it's not the be all and end all. You still have to know how to utilise those frameworks in the right way but its availability and accessibility certainly makes the journey a lot simpler.

"It's great that people are sharing code and sharing what others have developed and, crucially, making that free for other people to use. For us, it's invaluable; we have budgets to meet and deadlines and open source potentially saves hours in our development process."

Carl Browns, sales and marketing director for Wirebox and Flairsoft, agreed and called for a better understanding from government about the needs of the digital industry.

He said: "If you want to scale your proposition quickly, open source platforms allow you to do that. For us to build a game from the ground up without using these platforms can take a lot longer. You are essentially cutting development time in half by using open source platforms - it helps us from a business point of view to get more work done."

Browns, whose background is in the banking industry, reminded fellow panellists of the Government's pledge to focus on industries, including digital, that could outperform banking in terms of GDP by 2014.

He continued: "The Government needs to back this industry properly. They've committed to investing in high speed broadband to make the web more accessible but they need to address the skills shortage.

"In London especially there is a severe lack of decent iphone game developers. They are very few and far between so they command a very high salary because they are a finite resource. It's not hard to find a decent app developer but a decent iphone games developer is a different story."

Jonathan Bowers, Communications Director at UKFast, pointed out that the need for better qualified internet programmers does not just lie within the digital industries. "Every business now relies heavily on coded programmes to function and the latest push into cloud technology is bringing these applications, email and websites together. Competing in any industry now depends on the quality of digital skills the company possesses."

Martin Butcher, owner of Krypton TV, emphasised the need for any training to be well-targeted. He said: "It would be much better to develop well rounded programmers who understand the principles of programming whatever the language rather than training them in something that is a fad.

"The Government is actually very bad at targeting money where it's needed. What we don't want is people who just have the latest buzzwords on their CV."

Howarth continued: "We use Google Docs in the workplace. It really allows for sharing, it's simple and free. Open Source is very much a cost saving exercise. It's the choice between paying for a license for an alternative or using Google Docs that's free. Innovation is what is driving the open source community. People like Microsoft have dominated the market for such a long time and frustrations lie in that. People want to better it and stop relying on big corporations to deliver the products."

Bowers highlighted the approach from Microsoft, which is actually to work with free rivals rather than against them. "The software giant is well aware that it would be fruitless to put energies into dominating open source to keep a high market share. Microsoft's Open Source Group has thousands of servers, each one running a different programme and looking at ways to integrate the company's technologies and run them alongside in new and innovative ways."


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