The Open Source Census, is set to make it easier for a wide range of businesses to seek data on open-source applications by holding a census. The project was announced this week by open-source vendor OpenLogic, the prime sponsor of the effort.

The idea, according to organisers, is to help enterprises track open-source use for licence management and to improve application coordination and innovation across a company.

Kim Weins, senior vice president of marketing at OpenLogic, said the idea arose this summer after the company developed its open-source software discovery tool, OSS Discovery. The tool was aimed at helping customers scan their IT infrastructures to see what open-source applications they were running for tracking, maintenance, licensing and quality assurance reasons. Many customers were surprised at the amount of open-source software they were using, she said.

"One company, a manufacturer, thought it was using 20 to 30 open-source applications," Weins said. From a sampling of 2,000 computers inside the business, OSS Discovery found 220 open-source applications - more than 10 times what the company expected.

A telecommunications company searched about 200 machines with OSS Discovery and found about 250 applications, including just 70 that had been officially approved by the company.

"As we collected this data, we realised that companies could use the information for benchmarks against other companies and for market research" about the pervasiveness of open source, Weins said.

The latest version of the OSS Discovery software is now available for free download.

Once the census project begins in the first quarter of 2008, enterprise users will be asked to share statistical information to aid the overall census, Weins said. Participation will be optional and anonymous, with no records kept of IP addresses, company names, usernames or any other identifying information, she said.

So far, OSS Discovery can find about 900 open-source applications as it crawls an enterprise user's IT systems analysing the installed software. Within a year, the group hopes that the tool will be able to track as many as 5,000 applications.

The census would be similar to similar projects that many companies already take part in, such as salary surveys and IT security studies that analyse anonymous firewall logs for attacks by hackers, Weins said.

The Open Source Census Project will be hosted online by web-based software development collaboration platform vendor CollabNet.

Bill Portelli, president and CEO of CollabNet, said the project will help participants know what they are running and how those applications could be reused elsewhere. "The open-source community is a terrific way to leverage the community's resources globally," he said. "Once companies know the applications are there, they can [easily] reuse them elsewhere to accelerate innovation."