[Fwd: Re: Articolo su Archeologia e Open Source]

Benjamin Ducke benjamin.ducke@ufg.uni-kiel.de
Thu Jun 1 13:37:56 CEST 2006

I would like to add a few words to this discussion focussing
on GIS and open source in archaeology.

 From a spatial science point of view, GIS technology is the best
thing to happen in software development for the last 20 years.

When I started being interested in GIS back in 1996,
my institute had a few linceses for MapInfo. If it had not been
possible for me to use open source GRASS GIS, I would still
be on the low, low level of that software with my spatial
modelling skills.

Currently, we are in what I like to call the "Archaeological software
there is a lot of development on fundamental quantitative methods
but no software to put our methods into practice an a broad scale.
We are now past the playful era of the 1990s where people just
played around with existing GIS systems to see what could be
useful. We have grown an awareness for what we need and do not
find it in commercial software.

This is no great surprise, as archaeology is a small science
with little budgets and hardly any commercial value. We can
sit and wait until ESRI or some other major GIS vendor has
pitty with us or find a way out of this ourselves.

I see open source software as the only way out of this crisis.


Economic arguments:
1. There is no market for commercial software in archaeology.
It is not worth trying commercial development, because nobody
can afford the stuff. Products have to be exceedingly expensive
because the potential market is small. Look at how many archaeological
software companies there are and you will see my point.
I know of two companies in Germany. One is hardly surviving, the other
has been generating its main income from survey hardware for a long

2. Software makes more sense when viewed as a service, not a product.
Several reasons: unlike a product (e.g. a car), software is immaterial
and never comes with any sort of guarantee that it will do what you paid
for (in fact, most commercial licenses reject any sort of responsibility
whatsoever for what the software does or does not do). It makes more
sense to invest in a certain functionality and have some programmer
implement that as open source with a guarantee that it will do what
you want it to do as part of the job contract.

3. The strategy outlined in (2) will help us support archaeological
programmers that need jobs and invest tay payers' many in a sound
way.  How many more billions does a big company like ESRI or Microsoft
need? How many archaeologists with computing skills are out there that
would need some money to pay their rents?

4. Long term investment strategies
Commercial software loses its value quickly as new versions become
available. Software companies go bankrupt, program developments
may be cancelled in favour of another development any time. Support
for such products runs out a few years after they were bought.
There are archaeological projects that have been runnning for several
generations of scientists. How can this ever be compatible with
the short-term cycles of commercial software development?
How many more databases in outdated software formats does it take?
Open source software can always be maintained and open data format
will always be readable.

Scientific arguments:
1. Science is based on free information exchange and cooperation.
Commercial licenses contradict this very nature of science.
I want to share my knowledge and software with other researchers.
If I cannot do that, I refuse to use that software.

2. Commercial software uses closed-sourced algorithms. Data analysis
thus essentially happens in a black-box system. I do not know what
the software does exactly to my data and how it comes up with the
results, because I cannot see the algorithms' source code.
That's not good enough for me.

3. Because archaeological institutes cannot afford all the commercial
software they need, one of two things may happen:
(a) research does not make as much progress as it could (b) software
administrators are pressured into installing illegal copies.
None of these are nice options. Open source software will avoid them

4. True, open source archaeological software development will advance
our science as such. We will learn about data and problem structures
involved in our research and start to tackle fundamental questions
(everyone ever tried to imagine an open data format for representing
stratigraphy and the wonderful things you could do with it?).
We will stop being scavengers of other people's technology and
cater for own scientific needs.

Technological arguments
1. Software will only survive if it is supported by an enthusiastic
community. The life-cycle of closed-source, commercial or resarch
based software development ends when the funding stops, the
research project closes etc. I have seen this happen to so many
nice software projects. Totally wasted research time and tax payers'
money. The only right way is to develop open source and hand things
over to the community aftwerwards. This will ensure that software
is maintained and lives on (and tax payers won't have to pay for
the same development againg in a few years).

2. * if * a lively community supports it, then:
Open source software has better quality (yes, that's true),
better support (yes, that's also true) and better functionality
(that's truer than true) than commercial.

Why in the world do we have to pay so much money for redundant
software licenses, if we could invest that same amount of money
into targeted software development: to get exactly the functionality
we (not ESRI, MapInfo Corp or whoever) need and then be free
to share it with everyone else? This way, even institutes with
very small budgets could contribute to a common software effort
by supplying skills, ideas, whatever and at the same time everyone
will be able to play in the first league of computational archaeology.

OK, I realize this is a lot to digest. It is also biased and totally
subjective. I do think, however that there are signs that a large
part of the IT industry is reassessing the role of open source
software right now and I think this is a good time to be part
of the movement.



Stefano Costa wrote:
> Sorry for non-italian speakers.
> I forward this e-mail to the list and if would be very nice if everyone
> that has something to say about our main topic should try to resume one
> or more aspects of why you chose or like free software for your
> archaeological work. Please reply both to the list and to Marco Fioretti
> (mfioretti@mclink.it) as well, so that we can share some of our
> points-of-view and maybe start some discussion, too.
> For English speakers: Newsforge has some interest in an article about
> "Archaeology and Open Source" and Marco Fioretti kindly asked Giancarlo
> Macchi to explain something about the future of this kind of approach to
> archaeological computing/archaeoinformatics, of the growing community.
> In particular most interesting would be those topics that should be
> acceptable also by American readers and archaeologists, or general
> questions/comments like "We still don't know how to do X, maybe some of
> the readers can help" or "Were we using free software for our research,
> we wouldn't do such errors as Y"
> I hope this sounds good to you as it is to me,
> best regards
> Stefano
> ------- Messaggio inoltrato -------
> Da: M. Fioretti <mfioretti@mclink.it>
> Rispondi-a: M. Fioretti <mfioretti@mclink.it>
> A: Stefano Costa <steko@iosa.it>
> Cc: qmdaa@unisi.it, M. Fioretti <mfioretti@mclink.it>
> Oggetto: Re: Articolo su Archeologia e Open Source
> Data: Thu, 1 Jun 2006 09:51:52 +0200
> On Thu, Jun 01, 2006 09:35:19 AM +0200, Stefano Costa (steko@iosa.it)
> wrote:
>>Ciao Giancarlo, ciao Marco.
>>Se ho capito bene Newsforge vuole un articolo su "Archeologia e Open
>>Source" che dia anche qualche notizia sulla neonata (speriamo in
>>crescita) community dopo il workshop di Grosseto.  È corretto ?
> Sì. In pratica, non vogliono tanto un resoconto di quel che è successo
> al congresso, quanto informazioni più aggiornate possibile su quanto
> sta succedendo ora e succederà in futuro, soprattutto se è rilevante
> anche per lettori americani (nel senso di parlare di problemi comuni a
> tutti gli archeologi, non solo quelli europei, e soprattutto di
> iniziative "archeologia e open source" a cui potrebbe partecipare
> anche un americano: borse di studio in europa, ricerche, tesi o
> sviluppo di software per archeologia da preparare in comune, quello
> che volete!).
> Anche commenti del tipo "non sappiamo ancora come fare X, forse
> qualche lettore di Newsforge può aiutarci?" oppure "se ricominciassimo
> adesso a usare FOSS nel nostro lavoro, l'errore che non faremmo è..."
> sono molto apprezzati.

Benjamin Ducke, M.A.
(Archaeoinformation Science)
Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte
(Inst. of Prehistoric and Historic Archaeology)
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Johanna-Mestorf-Straße 2-6
D 24098 Kiel

Tel.: ++49 (0)431 880-3378 / -3379
Fax : ++49 (0)431 880-7300

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