Gates visit highlights British IT failings

Experts say software talent is under-exploited

The visit to Britain last week of the world's richest man, Microsoft multi-billionaire Bill Gates, to inaugurate a new computer laboratory at Cambridge, will inject a much-needed boost into the still precarious UK software industry.

The visit of the Microsoft Don does not usher in a new golden age for British software and computer entrepreneurs, however. Rather, it highlights the problems standing in the way of converting Britain's tremendous software talent into a sector that can compete in the highly profitable global information technology industry.

During a two-day visit to the country - speaking to political and business leaders from Prime Minister Tony Blair on down - Gates repeatedly praised the research talent available in the UK, not only in Cambridge, but also in Scotland's Silicon Glen, as well as the more traditional Silicon triangle around Reading, Woking and Swindon.

In doing so, however, he focused attention on the dirty secret of British IT - its failure to keep pace with the trillion dollar industry of the US's Silicon Valley in California, and Microsoft's home base of Redmond, Seattle, as well as fast growing new centres of computing power like Budapest and Bombay.

The history of British information technology is littered with fallen idols, from Sir Clive Sinclair to Alan Sugar of the humbled Amstrad.

Government statistics say the computer software market and related services had sales of pounds 13.34bn in 1996, an increase of 16 per cent over 1995. Of this, a third was generated by retail spending, which is growing at approximately 12 per cent a year. The balance was spending by companies.

Most of the money spent in Britain on information technology, however, goes on products made by US and other foreign products. Home grown British technology takes only a small slice of the computing pie, especially in the personal computer market.

Besides this, the British market is small by global standards, and accounts for only a sixth of the Western European market - small beer by the standards of the US.

Does the Cambridge initiative mark a new beginning? What the new research laboratory will offer is the ability to mix research, entrepreneurial flare, and, when it is needed, interest from external capital.

On the research front, few would question the pedigree of the Gates initiative. Alan Turing, the Cambridge mathematician, was after all, the founder of modern computer theory - a tradition maintained by the computer sciences department.

Nor is entrepreneurial flair lacking - Cambridge already

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee