A new U.K. think tank launched on Monday will analyse how open-source software can be used in government and the private sector.

The National Open Centre, based in Birmingham, will be composed of working groups that will study issues around open source such as the use of standards and procurement guidelines, said Ed Downs, of the National Computing Centre, a professional IT membership organization.

Unlike other European countries, the U.K. lacked an organisation dedicated to studying open-source software, he said.

"If open source and open standards can make a contribution, that's what we want to do," Downs 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 higher costs associated with proprietary software, he said.

But using open source is fraught with risks as well as opportunities. Many public sector agencies are ignorant about open source, and misguided procurement policies have complicated open-source implementations, said John Pugh, a member of Parliament.

Some open-source companies have also struggled in selling their products and services, while their continued viability has been sometimes questionable, Pugh said.

The politics around open-source software are bitter, he said.

"Open source has enemies, and its enemies are very, very close to government," Pugh said.

Microsoft Corp. believes organizations don't care whether their software is open source or proprietary as long as it's the best product, said Jerry Fishenden, the company's U.K. national technology officer, who attended the launch.

About 5 percent of the total IT spend in the U.K. is actually on the software itself, with the rest comprised of consulting fees, system integration costs and more, Fishenden said. Those costs are where organizations could make significant savings, he said.