Frequently Asked Questions

What is Almagest?

Almagest is a relational database for the storage, cataloging and display of images, text, video, sound, and many other file types. The database is the result of more than a decade of development and has been used as a tool for teaching and scholarship at Princeton University for the past decade.

The Almagest database gets its name from The Almagest, title of the comprehensive astronomical treatise composed by Ptolemy in the mid-2nd century. It means "the greatest" in Arabic. The name was given to Princeton's teaching database by Kirk Alexander.

What does Almagest do?

Almagest is a database for teaching and learning that can manage and store media, create and display digital lectures and presentations, and annotate and contextualize data for teaching. For more information, see the Description of Almagest on this site.

What does 'open source' mean?

According to the entry found at

"Open source or open source software , sometimes abbreviated OSS, means any computer software whose source code is either in the public domain or, more commonly, is copyrighted by one or more persons/entities and distributed under an open-source license such as the GNU General Public License (GPL) (This particular license is often referred to as a copyleft ). Such a license may require that the source code be distributed along with the software, and that the source code be freely modifiable, with at most minor restrictions, such as a requirement to preserve the authors' names and copyright statement in the code. In some cases, as with Apache or FreeBSD , there are only very minor conditions on use of modified versions. When used as an adjective, the term is hyphenated, e.g. "Apache is open-source software." One common form of open source software uses the OSI Open Source Definition . "

Almagest software conforms to the OSI definition. It will be available through, and from this site.

Who can use Almagest?

Almagest is primarily intended as a tool for educators, scholars, and students at institutions of higher education. Versions of the Almagest database are currently running at Princeton University and the University of California at Davis. The Almagest Open Source project, described in this site, is an effort to share software for the Almagest database and Almagest Lecture Builder software with the larger scholarly community. Institutions of higher education can download the software to install and support it within their own IT structure. It is also hoped that a version of Almagest, hosted at Princeton University, will provide a repository for the scholarly exchange of image and other media files available through the Internet. Although these assets will be freely available via the WWW, their use is restricted to educational and noncommercial purposes. A more complete definition of this will be found at the Almagest beta site, when published. Terms will be set by individual contributors to the database, but will conform to general expectations of strictly educational and noncommercial use. Other usage must be negotiated separately with the image copyright holder.

How much does Almagest cost?

As with most Open Source Software, Almagest is free. However it requires a fairly robust local infrastructure to install and maintain the program. See several items on this page, including "What kind of technology and support do I need to use Almagest?," and "What system hardware does it require?"

How can I get it?

The Almagest database software will be available through this site, and at

What uses are permitted/ NOT permitted?

Use of the Almagest source code is defined by the OSS licence. Use of individual data files within Almagest databases NOT hosted at Princeton University will be the responsibility of those institutions who download and use the Almagest software. In the case that Princeton University makes certain content available through a publicly Almagest web interface, use will be defined by the contributing copyright holder, with the understanding that ALL material downloaded from the site will be used EXCLUSIVELY for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Do I have to be affiliated with a college or university to use it?

It is unlikely that an individual would be able to download and use Almagest as a local database. Institutional support, including IT professionals, an existing database structure, and local catalogers is assumed. It is hoped that a version of the software, hosted at Princeton University, will be available for general use to the scholarly community via the WWW. This version of Almagest would allow them to

Can I upload my own data to Almagest?

Yes. You can upload a wide variety of file types, including images, sound, video, animation, text, spreadsheet, and markup language files.

Can I download data from Almagest?

That will depend on local policies of institutions that adopt Almagest.

Does Almagest come with images and data already packaged?

Not at the moment, but we are looking into providing some basic images, and those that scholars are willing to share with others.

What kind of technology and support do I need to use Almagest?

Can Almagest function as a visual resources collection management tool?

Almagest has basic cataloguing tools included in its software. The data fields in the database were written according to current practice for cataloguing objects of cultural value as defined by the VRA, Dublin Core, and other such standards. However, Almagest is primarily a teaching, and not a collections management tool. Individual faculty members, coming from diverse disciplines, have defined a large number of cataloging options that can be customized for each project in the database. The database is also designed to accommodate objects that are not works of art. The tools in Almagest as used at Princeton University, primarily serve the needs of faculty members, allowing them to annotate and contextualize objects without changing the basic cataloging information already in the database. These additions are project-based, and do not alter the basic cataloging information of an object in the database, or affect another user's ability to provide a completely different context for the object in his or her course.

One of the primary contributors to Almagest at Princeton is The Visual Resources Collection (VRC) who share their records of art images with the Almagest database. The VRC currently maintains its own image database in a MS Access-based collection management tool called Pictor, which is compatible with Almagest. For more information about Pictor, contact Trudy Jacoby, Director of the VRC.

Data in Almagest has also been mapped from a variety of sources. We have mapped data from several proprietary database sources such as Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel, EmBark, and FileMaker Pro.

Does it work on a Mac?


Almagest is functional across Mac and PC platforms for end users. It supports most recent browsers including IE, Firefox, Mozilla and Safari.

Some editing and development functions, such as Almagest Lecture Builder, are currently experiencing Javascript incompatibilities in browsers created for Apple systems (OS X) We are working on improving support for OS X.

What system hardware does it require?

The Almagest database runs on Oracle 9. The Almagest web application runs on Apache1.3.26 and either JRun4 or TomCat4.0 application servers. Sun servers, Windows hardware compatible servers, and Linux x86 may be used.

Operating System: Sun Solaris Version 9, Red Hat ES or AS2.1/3.0, Microsoft Windows XP Server or Windows 2000 Server.

The PowerPoint export tool only runs on Windows.

Is documentation/ training available?

Open Source Software is commonly offered with little or no support, relying instead upon a user community to gradually develop shared responsibility for support, documentation, and code for future development. However, we are working on providing some preliminary documentation for Almagest is its current state.

Where can I get more information?

See the "Contacts" section of this site.