The Open Source Consortium, (OSC) the independent voice of the European open source community has announced a free guidance service to help organisations considering open source technology for the first time. The OSC will pilot the scheme in the UK.

The scheme is intended to provide first-line information on where to look for a suitable solution and where to source independent expert advice on areas such as legal issues, insurance, support and training. The service will be extended to France and Germany towards the end of the year if the UK model proves successful.

OSC executive director Mark Taylor said: "The new service is aimed at supporting those organisations who are interested in learning more about open source technology but unsure of who to approach in the first instance. If we can make that process easier then we are delighted."

Taylor said that he expected most requests for information and technical support to come both from the public sector - "that's our raison d'ĂȘtre" - and from small to medium-sized businesses.

Taylor added that the advantage the OSC has over big software vendors is that it is not vendor-specific. "The OSC is a virtual organisation so those who answer requests are a selection of people involved in the open source development business", he said.

"People searching open source on the Web are typically faced with high level debates on issues such as European patents or promotional sites for commercial enterprises. However, much of the initial interest is for relatively straightforward and independent guidance and in this respect the new service fills a vital gap in the market," said Taylor.

"The pilot scheme and the European roll-out approach is a matter of resource, being a relatively new organisation, but our expectation is that this will ultimately become the first port of call for anyone seeking an introduction to open source."

Seekers of information will initially be able to contact the OSC online and a telephone help line is planned to start from the end of March.