Expedition Software

Preparing a Heard Island image taken with the NASA Aqua/MODIS instrument using GIMP.  Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).
Preparing a Heard Island image taken with the NASA Aqua/MODIS instrument using GIMP. Image credit: Bill Mitchell (CC-BY).

Previously, I’ve written a little about the computer issues that may come up on the Heard Island expedition, as well as some of my views on open access (I’m generally for it). Now I’d like to talk a little bit more about the software which will be on the expedition computers.

For the most part, we’re using open-source software wherever it’s practical. My heart broke a little when I realized we would not be able to run Linux for many of the computers because of some of the programs needed to support the ham radio side of the expedition. I prefer open-source software because it can help encourage experimentation and learning among amateur programmers, it has code which is verifiable (not subject to security through obscurity), can be shared freely, and does a better job supporting open formats free of restrictive proprietary specifications that force vendor lock-in.

Here are some of the software packages which are coming with us:

  • GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program), for raster graphics
  • Inkscape, for scalable vector graphics
  • Firefox, for standards-compliant HTML browsing
  • FileZilla, an FTP client for sharing files over the (local) network
  • PuTTY, a command-line client for accessing remote computers
  • VLC (VideoLAN Client), for playing sound/video files
  • Audacity, an audio recording/editing program
  • Pidgin, a chat client
  • LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP), a web server and related programs/languages (probably coming, but not confirmed)
  • QGIS, a mapping/geospatial information system

Just as with ecology, having a healthy, diverse software ecosystem is important. It allows new ideas a chance to thrive, and for users who know what they are doing to add features and patch bugs themselves. More and more academic research is turning toward open-source tools, from R (statistics) to Git (of GitHub fame) to WordPress. We are choosing as much open source software and as many open formats as possible to help preserve the data for the future. Proprietary formats are subject to the corporation changing the format to force upgrades, vendors going out of business, and other issues. It also happens with open-source projects, but there are generally compatible programs which can handle your data.

Most of these programs above are ones I have been using for quite a while, and have significant user bases. Online support is pretty easily accessed via search engine. Try them out at home, and you may find them quite to your liking!