Confusion and uncertainty over open source issues means that software which could be "of great benefit" is not being fully exploited in the UK.
According to research carried out by the National Computing Centre (NCC) on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry, a lack of information has led to uneven open source usage in the UK.
Michael Gough, chief executive of the NCC, said: "The UK would benefit greatly from the establishment of a stable alternative to the use of proprietary software, both in terms of business innovation and competitiveness, and in support of the UK software industry."
But key findings from in-depth interviews with 30 IT professionals, representative of a cross section of public and private organisations, identified key concerns as: uncertainty over what open source is; uncertainty over support and what the liabilities might be; lack of clear marketing positioning for products; and difficulties in identifying the right products for a given requirement.
Dr Andrew Hopkirk, head of research and development at the NCC, said: "The current use of open source software in the UK is a complex and fragmented picture, yet there is clearly great potential for cost savings and increased efficiency."
The NCC said that the current use of open source is uneven, but "in areas such as operating systems, open source products compare very favourably with proprietary infrastructure products".
The desktop open source uptake has been boosted by strong brand interest from the likes of Hewlett Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems, but there is a need for wider, more co-ordinated developer efforts.
It is also difficult for users to assess the quality and suitability of open source products due to the widely collaborative way in which they are developed.
But the NCC warned that there is an urgent requirement for co-ordinated promotional activity and consumer support from an independent authoritative body if the benefits of open source are to be realised.
The report found that interest in open source has increased in light of the rising licence costs of proprietary software.
Transparency of development, and the potential to generate stable IT products, makes open source an attractive alternative but, in contrast, some organisations will choose to remain with proprietary solutions because of negative perceptions of relative ownership costs and the marketing power of package vendors, said the NCC.
However, establishing accurate total cost of ownership benchmarks is complex. Those interviewed in the research advocated a greater understanding of cost benefits, some having adopted open source and experienced resultant cost savings.
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