Next February will see the launch of Openforum Europe, a user group backed by government, corporate users and IT suppliers.
Several large corporate users, including banks and retailers, will shortly be confirmed as members, with IBM and Caldera the first IT supplier members to go public.
The Department of Trade & Industry is paying 50% of the cost for Openforum, which will be a not-for-profit sister programme to Interforum, the DTI-backed organisation that encourages small and medium-sized companies to trade online.
Like Interforum, Openforum Europe will be under the umbrella of the government-backed IT Forum Foundation, which promotes the use of e-commerce by UK businesses.
According to its programme director Graham Taylor, Openforum Europe will address return-on-investment, true cost, auditability and other business issues of using open source software. It will be targeting finance directors as well as IT directors.
"This is not an evangelical group," said Taylor. "It is highly business-focused and tackles those issues which are preventing open source having wider success in business. At a time when cost of ownership has never been of more importance, it is paramount that businesses can fully understand the opportunities as well as the pitfalls and make informed decisions."
Ian Wesley, a research director at analyst firm Ovum, said, "This development is clearly a reaction to the fact that Microsoft has the business world over a barrel when it comes to the desktop. It is not a good thing but it is a harsh reality."
Openforum Europe will aim to strengthen the perception and credibility of open source, particularly in government and among commercial users.
In conjunction with Trend Consulting, Openforum Europe is currently conducting a study of perceived benefits and blockages with open source. It is also preparing a series of white papers to explain open source. Both sets of research are expected to be released at the formal launch of Openforum Europe at the end of February.