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Archaeology and Open Source

The use of computer science, in modern historical/archaeological research, is fundamental for the data storage and treatment. Unfortunately till now doesn't exists software created on purpose for archaeologist so that several researchers start to develope their own applications. This is certainly an hard task especially because common commercial softwares doesn't allow to reuse their code: the result is that archeo-developers must create their own code from the ground up. With open source softwares the code is available as well as the executable file. Many Open Source licenses allow to view, reuse and change the native code, adapting it to the user's requirement with the possibility of re-distribute the software with new add-ons.

On the other hand the world of research has certain availability of economic resources; the use of Open Source/Free Software make possible to invest it in other purposes. Just consider that the use of a commercial program often require one licence for every computer where it's installed. Using open source software is not to the detriment of quality; nowadays the equation free=worst, analysing what this emerging sector makes available, doesn't seems to be true.

Of course there's a “dark side of the coin”, in sense that in front of all these advantages, using and learning this softwares may be more difficult for the average user: firstly because they're mostly designed to work properly with Unix-like operating systems, that are not very prevalent in the “domestic” use of the computer, and also because some of this softwares is partially command line based. We must to consider that the user is not leave alone during the learning process because open source community is very willing so there are a lot of forums, discussion groups and tutorials available in internet, created just by the supporters of the Open Source movement.

Moreover these softwares have an high degree of compatibility and there are many solutions that allow different programs to work together exchanging and manipulating data. This is a great advantage that can make possible to create specific solutions for data treatment avoiding the necessity of developing cross-software solutions.

This list give you only some examples of open source softwares that could be used in archaeology.

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Some clarifications on Open Source and Free Software

In the common diction the terms “Open Source” and “Free Software” were generally considered as synonims and they're associated to the idea of programs for free. These two terms in reality hide a software conception paired to the classic vision of programs like closed commercial products, where the final aim is the company's business.

The philosopy is at the base of the “Free Software” diffusion movement is sumarized by the “GNU manifesto” writed by Richard Stallman, one of its charter members. He argue that the final user has four kinds of freedom:

According to these statements, programs are seen as an expression of freedom and of human creativity, so they must be protected against any containment that can limit them.

Since 1998 a “Free Software” supporter community started to change this term with "Open Source". Someone suggested this term to avoid the confusion between “Free” and "costless", because the term "free software'' has an ambiguity problem. "Software you can get for zero price", in fact, doesn't include that it must be a "software which gives the user certain freedoms".

Flying GNU The Open Source supporters tended to highlight the aspect of source diffusion and redistribution. The native code, written by the programmer, offers the opportunity to be understandable and editable by users. The software evolution is possible trough the distribution of source code and by its integration, without limits.

This difference of thought between "Free Software" and "Open Source", is reflected, on a legal point of view, in different types of licenses.

In front of a starting difficult for the user, Open Source/Free Software programs present a set of advantages:

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