The Open Source Academy has launched a new website, offering information on procurement and a free “ask an expert” service.

Open Source Academy (OSA), which is funded under the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's e-Innovations programme, was established to encourage local authorities to make more use of open source software (OSS) systems, such as Linux, StarOffice and OpenOffice, as well as for locally developed applications.

It is hoped that the new website will provide an ever-expanding resource of information and guidance to local authorities. It includes case studies of councils which have migrated to OSS, technical papers giving guidance to those considering using OSS, a database of systems to provide a quick guide to integration between existing systems, and a news service. There is also an 'ask an expert' service enabling councils to get additional advice on business and legal issues.

"The 'ask an expert' service is not a technical resource, it’s looking at trying to answer problems such as legal issues, the procurement process and licensing,” said Bob Blatchford, director at OpenForum Europe, who has been managing the development of the portal. “We are also addressing these issues by giving case studies, and allowing local authorities to share their experiences.”

This service is available to registered users with a .gov or company e-mail account; those with webmail-type accounts will need to provide further contact details. Questions must be open source-related, and cover a single legal, business or technical strategy issue, which will be forwarded to an expert.

"I think there are great opportunities to reduce costs across local authorities, either through open source software or through sharing code," said Blatchford. "If you go back a couple of years, people saw open source as a bit of a gimmick and not technically robust, but that’s all changed now with things like StarOffice and OpenOffice, which give truly competitive facilities to Microsoft Office."

Even open source’s comparatively low market share could be seen as an advantage, he claimed: “A lot of people find they have less of a problem with security, such as viruses and spam,” he said.