Future of CSIRO DELTA programs

Russ Spangler spangler at OEB.HARVARD.EDU
Wed Apr 5 16:27:50 CDT 2000

I see how the action of ending support for DELTA could be understood as a
negative event in systematics, but I try to have a more optimistic view
actually think this may turn out to be good impetus for bioinformatics
people to generate more universal community standards.
That is, IF the program remains in active use among systematists, and IF
the community is given the opportunity to continue development of DELTA
in the absence of a supporting organizaton. For one, if the source code
were made available to the community, then
continued advances and additions could be made by inclined individuals who
just can't use the current version for their needs.  In this way, the
bioinformatics community can have direct input into the end product,
relieving CSIRO from the responsibility of having to set THE standard in
bioinformatics to be simply followed by everyone else.  At this time, if
people prefer not to use DELTA to store and query their taxonomic data,
they must design their own system, usually with a completely different set
of data standards, or use a different program already designed.  This is
hardly a stable situaton for informatics standards.
The ability to modify existing programs by the community to meet agreed
upon standards competes only with the design of a new program from scratch
by the community to enable across the board standards to be met.
Additionally, regarding the impact DELTA currently has, only windows users
can currently work with DELTA.  The growing numbers of Linux users and the
large number of Macintosh users (particularly among systematists who rely
on the graphical interface of the Mac version of PAUP) must either
purchase or borrow time on a windows capable machine to use DELTA, or not
use it.  Making the source code open would enable inclined individuals to
port the software to other platforms and make the program more universally
useable.  Finally, opening the source to the community would foster
compatability between competing taxonomic database tools.  Exporting data
files between programs could be developed by community users who have
multiple datasets but no easy way of consolidating them.  With the lack of
standards among software choices, the job of maintaining standards for the
data itself will only be facilitated if datasets can be made compatable.

I agree, the authors and people who worked so hard to develop DELTA
deserve much praise for producing a product that greatly eases the
compilation of taxonomic information.  The announced stand-alone program
to be released at the end of the year will hopefully draw in additional
users who preferred not to use the DOS-based applications.  It should also
provide a robust program that will not be obsolete, because the main
attraction of DELTA databases is the actual taxonomic content individual
researchers enter into each dataset.  I think the end of official support
for the program will entice users to work together with what we have and
hopefully have the ability to modify it (through open source codes), or
will force people to come together and invent a new, equally high-quality
standard application for systematists that provides the taxonomic
infrastructure characteristics that DELTA currently provides.

Russ Spangler
Harvard University Herbaria
DELTA user

On Wed, 5 Apr 2000, James Beach wrote:

> Pulling the plug on the DELTA project is a regrettable and short-sighted
> decision on the part of CSIRO Entomology.  DELTA has been one of the very
> few adequately supported pieces of the biodiversity computing
> infrastructure for a quarter of a century.  Mike Dallwitz deserves all our
> praise and support for his long-term vision, rugged determination and
> sustained software support for character-level computing and
> databases.  The loss of this effort as a centrally-supported,
> community-based collaboration diminishes the role and impact systematics
> will have in the rapidly evolving biodiversity informatics infrastructure.
> At 4/5/2000 08:33 AM +1000, you wrote:
> >CSIRO Entomology has supported the development of DELTA and associated
> >programs for some 25 years, and believes they are valued research and
> >communication tools. CSIRO is committed to biological informatics and is
> >keen to see the programs continue to be of value to the scientific community
> >and other users of taxonomic information. However, it has been decided that,
> >based on relative priorities, the maturity of the project, and available
> >resources, CSIRO cannot continue to fund the development of these programs
> >from its core resources.
> >
> >Program development and user support will continue until the end of this
> >year. A new version of Intkey, with a substantially improved interface, will
> >be released in June. A completely self-contained version of the DELTA
> >Editor, incorporating the functions of Confor and Intimate, will be released
> >in December, making Confor and Intimate obsolete. During this year we will
> >improve the marketing of DELTA and also expect to offer enhanced support to
> >users, including training and dedicated support to major users.
> >
> >It is hoped that alternative support for DELTA will be in place before the
> >end of the year. CSIRO will explore ways for continued support and
> >development of the programs, either by CSIRO or by other institutions. Your
> >assistance in securing their continued availability would be greatly
> >appreciated and we would welcome your ideas or expressions of interest in
> >the future development and support of the programs.
> >
> >
> >R. Floyd
> >Program Leader
> >Natural Resources and Biodiversity
> >CSIRO Entomology
> >
> >--
> >
> >Communicated by Mike Dallwitz
> >
> >CSIRO Entomology, GPO Box 1700, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia
> >Phone: +61 2 6246 4075   Fax: +61 2 6246 4000
> >Email: md at ento.csiro.au  Internet: biodiversity.uno.edu/delta/
> ____________________________________________________
> James H. Beach
> Assistant Director for Informatics
> Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center
> Dyche Hall, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045
> E-mail: jbeach at ukans.edu
> Tel: (785) 864-4645, Fax: (785) 864-5335
> NetMeeting: beachnt.nhm.ukans.edu

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