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Free Software for Use in Mineral Exploration

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Originally, in the 1950s and 1960s, when computers were primarily for commercial use, software was free and provided as part of the hardware purchase. As computers became more mainstream for home and office use and programming became more intricate and costly, licensing fees were introduced in the late 1970s and 1980s. As a result, online software-sharing communities were created and the free software movement began. In 1983, Richard Stallman at MIT, announced the GNU Project where the freedom to run a program for any purpose, the freedom to study the mechanics of the program and modify it, the freedom to redistribute copies, and the freedom to improve and change modified versions for public use were the principles at the core of the movement. He also created the Linux operating system and the GNU General Public License which enabled the code from the software to remain free for future generations.

What are the benefits of using free software?

Typically, free software is developed and maintained by a large team or informal group that uses the program on a daily basis. They are invested in the utility and stability of the software often leading to programs which can read and save as multiple file types for the ease of communication between programs and different users. It also allows users, with insufficient funds, to develop and create files that they would not normally be able to without an appropriate computer program. With a wide variety of users and programmers, online forum help is often much easier to find and understand.

*Be sure to read the fine print (license or terms of use) before using free software for a specific purpose!*

Operating System

If you're looking for a new operating system, try Linux Ubuntu software. Current versions operate very similarly to Windows but there is still a bit of a learning curve and not all programs will run on a Ubuntu system.

Geographic Information System

There are many, free, online mapping programs provided by government agencies to help us draft the maps needed for filing work on our claims. If you're looking for an alternative to the paid software to produce polished work or to effectively display your data try QGIS. It's interface is similar to paid mapping programs and there are multitudes of free add-ins to help process data.

Statistics Program

To go beyond simple statistics with geochemical data is a must in understanding geological processes. R Statistics is an excellent program, with many free scripts created by government agencies and prominent geochemists, to get the most of out of your data. R Statistics isn't just for spreadsheet data, there are also scripts which will process satellite imagery and create tiffs based on interpolations.

Office Suite

Although most personal computers were bought stock with Microsoft Office, there is a change that might be coming where small, yearly fees will be implemented to continue the use of the software. A free alternative is LibreOffice which is compatible with Microsoft and other products to produce and manipulate, spreadsheets, databases, word processing, presentations and publishing.


Occasionally, there is a need to produce high quality posters, banners or backdrops. Inkscape and GIMP are both great, free software choices for creating graphics. Inkscape uses .svg as their primary format which allows for importing into QGIS as a symbol and there are some great templates for posters available.

Whether you are using the free software for a specific purpose or to learn something new I highly recommend testing out, and supporting, the work that goes into creating free programs.

About the Author:

Diana has over 20 years of experience working in the mineral exploration industry searching for diamonds and metals in a range of roles: from heavy minerals lab technician to till sampler, rig geologist, project manager and business owner. Following a Master of Science degree in diamond indicator mineral geochemistry, Diana has conducted field work in BC, NWT, YT, ON (Canada) and in Greenland. She has also been involved, remotely through a BC-based office, on mineral exploration projects located in South America, Africa, Eurasia, and the Middle East. Diana finished a Ph.D. at UNBC in 2017 researching geochemical multivariate statistical analysis and interpretation. Currently, Diana is the owner of Takom Exploration Ltd., a small geological and environmental consulting firm focused on metal exploration in BC and the Yukon.

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