Interoperability of Free Software Packages to Analyze Functional Human Brain Data

Tilmann Sander-Thömmes, Alois Schlögl

Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics, and Policy 2013; 4: G85-89

Functional neuroimaging of the human brain using non-invasive measurement methods is a success story of both hard- and software development. Hardware is a domain of commercial companies for good reasons such as the need to maintain an expensive set of machines. Software does not require massive investments to start and therefore the development of analysis software follows different schemes. It can be commercial or non-commercial, free, open source or proprietary. A multitude of highly specialized analysis methods and complex processing chains have been documented in the scientific literature. It is highly inefficient if methods or algorithms are coded from scratch every time that they are needed for a research project. Therefore, large parts of the neuroscience research community have followed the “Linux” or free software paradigm in developing their own software tools in a cooperative way. Here typical properties of successful free software packages are described and it is argued, that a further boost is possible through interoperability of packages without sacrificing the specific target of each package. Interoperability can be achieved through a common data format for measured and processed data or through the incorporation of packages into other packages, i.e., delegating tasks to the most suitable package.


Keywords: free software, interoperability, brain imaging, electro/magnetoencephalography, functional magnetic resonance imaging