Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)


For many years UNESCO has been developing software for the benefit of Member States in strategic areas, such as information handling and retrieval, data mining and statistics.

Undoubtedly, the most popular has been CDS/ISIS, a free (of charge) software for creating, updating and searching textual databases. While project managers have an official register of 130,000 institutions and individuals using this software, number or reports suggest that the real number of beneficiaries over the years can be multiplied exponentially.

For many years UNESCO also developed a cutting edge software package for the validation, manipulation and statistical analysis of data, developed by the UNESCO Secretariat with the help of specialists in statistics and informatics from different regions of the world.

“Micro” CDS/ISIS was an advanced non-numerical information storage and retrieval software developed by UNESCO (Mr G.P. Del Bigio) from 1985 to 2005, to satisfy the need expressed by many institutions, especially in developing countries, to be able to streamline their information processing activities by using modern (and relatively inexpensive) technologies.

The software was originally based on the Mainframe version of CDS/ISIS, started in the late '60s, thus taking advantage of several years of experience acquired in database management software development. Several partners contributed to its development through the years.

In 2009 BIREME/PAHO - Brazil, a historic major partner of UNESCO for the development of CDS/ISIS software, released ABCD a fully integrated Open Source Library Management System based on CDS/ISIS technologies developed by BIREME during the years. ABCD received financial support from VLIR, the Flemish Interuniversity Council (Belgium) as well as BIREME.

Extensively contributing to the development of technologies based on CDS/ISIS, BIREME/PAHO built during the last 20 years the Virtual Health Library, “[…] a model for the management of information and knowledge, which includes the cooperation and convergence between institutions, systems, networks, and initiatives of producers, intermediaries, and users in the operation of networks of local, national, regional and international information sources favoring open and universal access […]” (BIREME, 2006). The last official release of CDS/ISIS for Windows, called Winisis, was released in 2003 with a few updates until 2005. Since then, thousands of institutions worldwide have continued to download and install the UNESCO software benefitting from the support of its worldwide community of users.

The community aspect of CDS/ISIS has since its early days played a key role in the success and spread of the software. Over the years UNESCO has built a worldwide network of “official distributors” which has provided technical and training support to thousands of institutions, from National Libraries to small documentation centres, including those of many UNESCO National Commissions.

UNESCO has been also very active in capacity building for information professionals organizing or supporting a large number of training courses and workshops on CDS/ISIS solutions worldwide. Many other local or international organizations, including FAO and the UN have been providing courses and material to professionals for years. Many information systems in the UN have been built and some are still running on software based or derived from UNESCO’s CDS/ISIS, e.g. FAOLEX, an online database for legislation on food and agriculture, or the International Bureau of Education, bibliographic catalogue.

Also, while until 2/3 years ago the approach of CDS/ISIS to database was considered by many disruptive, i.e. out of the classic relational database management system (RDBMS, SQL) model, in 2009 the emergence of a growing number of open source non-relational, distributed database systems was acknowledge and the term NoSQL was finally adopted (the term was introduced for the first time in 1998). These developments confirm the long term visionary approach of UNESCO in the field of information storage and handling as well as the importance for the Organization to work with continuous engagement (more than 20 years in this case) with a view to achieve concrete, grass-root results and impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of information managers and users worldwide.


J-ISIS is a general purpose Open Source database system entirely written in Java and based on existing and solid FOSS software packages, such as Berkley DB and Lucene, from the Apache Foundation.

The J-ISIS project’s mission and goals are to develop a new multiplatform Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) ISIS suite that would provide the same successful concepts and functionalities as the actual UNESCO ISIS suite while removing the restrictions, being Client/Server, UNICODE, and benefiting of the latest software developments. One of the objectives was also to keep the assets and experience of the users. But the main objective is to develop a long-term solution that would be modular, easy maintainable and extensible.

The project is being supported by a number of universities and volunteers.



ABCD is a an Open Source web-based integrated library management software developed by BIREME and VLIR (the Flemish Interuniversity Council, Belgium).

It comprises the main basic library functions, including:

  • Cataloguing of books and serials
  • End user search (OPAC)
  • Loans circulation
  • Acquisitions
  • Statistics
  • Library services like SDI, barcode printing, quality control, etc.



Internationally-developed Data Analysis and Management Software, IDAMS, was a software package for the validation, manipulation and statistical analysis of data, developed by the UNESCO Secretariat in co-operation with experts from various countries. It was used through the years by thousands of institutions worldwide.

It comprised:

  • a graphical user interface and on-line Reference Manual,
  • possibility to customize the environment for an application,
  • facilities for editing/creating data files and data description files,
  • interactive data import/export,
  • editor for creating/updating files with instructions for program execution,
  • viewer for displaying and quick navigation through results,
  • advanced text editing facilities,
  • facilities for sorting and merging files, data editing, checking of codes and consistencies, correcting, listing, subsetting, aggregating, merging and transforming data, including construction of new variables,
  • wide range of data analysis techniques such as: table building, regression analysis, one-way analysis of variance, discriminant analysis, cluster analysis, principal components factor analysis and analysis of correspondences, partial order scoring, rank ordering of alternatives, segmentation and iterative typology,
  • interactive components for construction of multidimensional tables and their graphical presentation, for graphical exploration of data and for times series analysis.