Open source should win. This type of software is more reliable, more stable and provides more flexibility than proprietary software, says João Marcelino, an engineer working for Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil (National Laboratory for Civil Engineering, LNEC), a state-owned research and development institution. On top of that, the software lets organisations inspect and audit the code without restriction.
“Add to that the absence of licence fees and the growing availability of professional ICT support, and it is clear that open source should be the favourite”, Marcelino says. Engineers and researchers are especially attracted by the freedoms that come with open source software. That said, the institute still uses predominantly proprietary software, the engineer admits. “It is due to a combination of prejudices and institutional inertia to change”, he says.
Engineer Marcelino was one of the speakers at a conference on open source and open standards, taking place in Lisbon on 23 January. The conference was jointly organised by Portugal’s Agency for Administrative Modernisation (AMA) and ESOP, the country’s open source trade organisation.
Open source allows the LNEC engineers to continue to use legacy hardware, including very early computers. The institute also uses low-cost computers running Linux and other open source tools to perform “simple yet critical tasks”, including data acquisition from tests and monitoring of civil engineering structures.
One of the open source favourites at LNEC is programming language Python. “It is both powerful and easy”, says Marcelino, ”it can be used for simple as well as complex tasks.” Python is combined with mathematical software such as Code_Aster and Salome for analysis of some of the more complex structures.
LNEC uses Linux workstations and Python computing tools mpi4py and PyOpenCl to run forecasts of coastal hydrology, predicting for example water quality, the consequences of an oil spill in a coastal waters, or the effect of waves on a seaside resort.
The institute uses Dspacefor access and management of its reports and studies.
Some of the other open source tools that are available to LNEC researchers and staffers include graphics editor GIMP, office productivity suite LibreOffice and mind mapping application Freemind. They also use the email client Mozilla Thunderbird and web browser Mozilla Firefox. Some of the researchers use GNU Octave, a high level programming language for numerical computations. “And there is everything else that is available in the Ubuntu and other Linux distributions that we use”, Marcelino adds.