The Open Source Census, an effort to pin down hard statistics regarding the implementation of open-source software around the world, gets underway this week.

The census was first announced in December by founder OpenLogic, a vendor of tools and services for managing open-source software deployments. It has provided an automated census tool called OSS Discovery under an open-source license for the project.

Companies and individuals can use the tool to scan their computers for open-source software and then anonymously upload the data to the effort's site. The information will be available in two forms. Those who contribute can get reports summarising their own use, as well as comparative data based on similar companies' results. Aggregated data untraceable to any company will be available publicly on the site.

There is a practical reason for enterprise shops to participate in the effort, one observer suggested.

"Survey stuff like this - and OpenLogic isn't the only one talking about or doing it - are really examples of Enterprise 2.0 philosophy in action," said Michael Coté, an analyst with Redmonk. "Why not pool together the collective product-use intelligence from all enterprises to help enterprises make build-buy decisions, instead of relying on vendors, analysts and other middlemen in the process of doing IT procurement?"

Sample census data provided by OpenLogic showed several ways the numbers could be crunched. They could list the popularity of various Linux distributions, chart the countries of respondents, or even list the top 20 open-source packages.

This level of data can be tough to obtain through traditional survey techniques, said Matthew Lawton, an IDC analyst covering open-source software business models.

IDC targets a range of respondents for its surveys, from CIOs to developers, but no single person can have "complete visibility over all the open-source software in an organisation," he said. For example, a respondent might have a good sense of the major open-source projects in use at their company, but not a full accounting of every small module or pilot project in existence, Lawton explained.

"This type of census approach, to scan computers and get a complete list of what has been loaded on those computers, is a fundamentally more sound way to measure the amount of open-source software," he said.

IDC is among a number of additional project sponsors being announced Wednesday. Others include CollabNet, the Open Solutions Alliance, the Open Source Business Foundation and O'Reilly Media.

Apache Foundation Chairman Jim Jagielski and Tony Wasserman, director of the software management program at Carnegie Mellon University's West Coast campus, are acting as advisers to the project.