An MP has hit out at government attitudes to open source software at the launch of a think tank that aims to promote open source in the public and private sectors.
The National Open Centre, based in Birmingham, will set up a series of working groups that will look at key issues including standards and procurement, said Ed Downs, of the National Computing Centre.
Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh, speaking at the launch, said many public sector agencies were ignorant about open source, and misguided procurement policies had complicated open source implementations.
"Open source has enemies, and its enemies are very, very close to government," Pugh said.
Pugh is the sponsor of an Early Day Motion, backed by 130 MPs, that criticises the Department for Education and Skills and education IT agency Becta for "use of outdated purchasing frameworks", which "are effectively denying schools the option of benefiting from both free and open source software".
The NCC’s Ed Downs said Britian, unlike other European countries, had not so far had a centralised organisation dedicated to studying open source software.
"If open source and open standards can make a contribution, that's what we want to do," he said.
Many of the innovations on the internet would not have been possible without open source software, such as the Apache web server, said Scott Thompson, one of the founders of the National Open Centre. Companies such as Google and Yahoo use open source to drive down their software costs, he said.
Open source helps avoid traps such as vendor lock-in and the potential of higher costs associated with proprietary software, he said.
Microsoft believes organisations do not care whether their software is open source or proprietary as long as it is the best product, said Jerry Fishenden, the company's UK national technology officer, who attended the launch.
About 5% of the total IT spend in the UK is actually on the software itself, with the rest comprised of consulting fees, system integration costs and more, Fishenden said. Those costs are where organisations could make significant savings, he said.