|Free and Open Source GIS Software|
Even though most open-source software is freely distributed, your time is limited. So which software should you try first? That depends on what you want to accomplish, the kind of free software you want to deploy and the environment in which you work. The Free GIS FAQ listed below can help you identify the characteristics that are important to you. If you have more questions you want to see there, another opinion to offer, etc. let me know.
The FAQ is followed by an annotated list of free, open-source software. Additions to the list are also most welcome. Just let me know.
-- Sara Yurman - 20 Nov 2004
Free GIS FAQ
This question is not specific to GIS, and there are lots of places to explore it. Here are just a few:
In general, yes. The caveat is that your definition of "works" depends on the package and what you want to do with it. Some good rules of thumb for choosing a package are:
Most support for free software packages is through mailing lists. You'll find some through project web sites, or on central resources like MapTools.org. The advantage to this method is that it works well world-wide, regardless of time zones or business hours. The GIS free software community is small enough that you'll often see the software authors answering questions.
Some firms sell support for free software packages. Please let me know if you have names of support companies for free GIS software to contribute.
Free and open source software now encompasses the entire gamut of GIS needs. Most of these packages don't have a marketing department, so you have to find them. Software source sites are included in the list that follows this FAQ.
If you're just starting with GIS, there aren't any.
If you have an extensive installed base consider the following:
Yes. It can be harder, depending on the software you want to run. For example, here's the page describing what you have to do to install PostGIS in windows. It runs through Cygwin , a Linux environment that runs within windows. That's a lot of layers to go through. Your mileage may vary.
If you're on MacOS X you shouldn't have any problem at all: it's a kind of Unix. FreeGIS.org keeps a list of free GIS software that runs on it.
Java is a consideration. If you need a variety of Java Virtual Machines (JVMs) on a single machine, you can start to have conflicts. Some of the open source GIS packages are built on Java. If you choose one of them, pay attention to the JVM requirements, and take note of any JVMs that are already installed on the machine. You may wish to use non-Java packages to avoid these conflicts.
If you haven't compiled your own software before, yes, these are probably what you want. Most Unix systems assume you're going to want to custom compile some of your software. The tools to do it are provided with the operating system, and they're simple to use. Windows doesn't supply these tools. If you're running windows, it's easiest to get pre-compiled software that was specifically built for windows.Annotated List of Free and Open Source GIS Software
Sometimes it's just easier to go one place. Here are some places worth going.
Frank Warmerdam maintains most of the open source infrastructure for handling projections and file formats. It's handy to know what and where they are, since they are often prerequisites for installing other packages: proj4 and GDAL (pronounced "goodle", rhymes with noodle).
FWTools includes pre-compiled binaries for both Windows and Linux of GDAL and proj4, along with the web map server MapServer and raster-oriented desktop OpenEV. Frank contributes to or maintains all these packages.
GIS Knoppix is a self-booting Linux CD set up to be a sort of Linux workstation on a CD. It has office productivity tools, like OpenOffice , along with a full set of GIS tools: desktop, web map server, etc.
MapServer for Windows (MS4W) http://www.maptools.org/ms4w/index.phtml
GRASS , the Geographic Resources Analysis Support System, is a long-standing, complete GIS system. It was originally written in Unix, and runs best in Linux or Unix of some kind. Although the interfaces have recently improved it still has a learning curve. The GRASS community is enormous, and world-wide, with commensurate support resources.
JUMP supposedly works everywhere, but is much more windows oriented. Has a nice graphical user interface (GUI), and includes conflation tools. It requires SUN's Java Virtual Machine (JVM).
OpenEV is a raster-oriented viewer with some editing capability. Can display vectors, and create simple shapefiles. Most vector capabilities (snapping, etc.) are not present.
Quantum GIS (QGIS) http://qgis.org/
QGIS is mostly a viewer, with some fairly new editing capabilities. It is more mature on the Linux side of the house, but does have a windows preview release. It is extremely simple to operate, and creates configuration files for the MapServer web map server.
UDig is still in development, but may suit your needs even in its current form. It's designed to expand on JUMP functionality, and conform to important Open Geospatial Consortium standards. Refractions Research is planning to sell support for uDig.
There are quite a variety of these. The two listed below have the most developed capabilities.
MapServer has a very simple set-up and is economical with system resources. It is widely supported and integrated with other packages. The MapServer community has an annual conference.
GeoServer is Java-based, and has a fairly complex set-up. It is widely supported, and integrated with other packages.
-- Sara Yurman - 19 Nov 2004