Open-source software is gaining ground in Europe and the developing world, with users attracted by lower costs and accessibility, according to a recent study and industry observers.

A study of 12 European countries conducted by the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands found that nearly 49 percent of local government authorities are using Floss (free/libre/open source software) and those doing so would like to increase its use. The phone and web-based survey, conducted from late 2004 into early this year, netted 955 respondents in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

About 70 percent of Floss users wanted to increase its use, said Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, program leader for the study of free and open-source software at the Merit (Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology). Ghosh gave a presentation on the study at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Amsterdam Tuesday.

But the survey also found that some 29 percent of respondents who said they did not use Floaa did in fact use open-source software such as the GNU/Linux operating system, MySQL database or Apache web server.

It also found that the average number of computers serviced by an IT administrator was 66, 13 more than administrators who were not using open-source software, Ghosh said. The statistic implies that fewer administrators are needed for open-source software, he added.

Those surveyed feared that adopting open-source software would increase training costs or reduce support options. In addition, they didn't want to be the first to adopt something new, Ghosh said. The fears show how vendor lock-in works, he added.

"It's easy to stick with Microsoft even if you know it's a stupid thing to do because you can't be blamed for it, whereas if you migrate to something new and everyone else isn't doing that and something goes wrong, it's your fault," Ghosh said.

On the business and regulation side, some policy-making agencies within the European Union are funding open-source related activities, said Paul Everitt, founder and project leader of the Zope Europe Association, a support group for developers and users of the Zope open-source application server.

People who got sick of working at larger organisations are also starting small businesses and contributing to the open-source community, he said. "These are the free marketeers who are doing interesting things in Europe," said Everitt, who gave a presentation on Wednesday at the open-source conference.

In the developing world, more money is becoming available through the UN and private groups that are funding technology purchases, said Danese Cooper, senior director, open-source strategist at Intel's channel software operation. There's demand for wireless, inexpensive computers that fit in small family budgets, said Cooper, who conducted a session on Wednesday at the open-source conference.

Open-source software is gaining because its development can also help build local economies, Cooper said. Developers can get grant money and localise the software since it's often difficult to get in their own native language. "How sad it is that they can't get the big companies to deal with them," she said.

Brazil has a strong, self-deterministic open-source software industry working in Brazilian Portuguese.

One problem area is the way improvements to code are shared. Several countries are involved in coding but a lot of it is not making it back to the community, Cooper said. China is participating in open source, but many internal projects are "viciously" proprietary, she said.

"They are trying to run the 80s and 90s again in a different way," Cooper said. "They want a Chinese Bill Gates."