Open Source GIS and Freeware GIS Applications

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An open source application by definition is software that you can freely access and modify the source code for. Open source projects typically are worked on by a community of volunteer programmers.  Open source GIS programs are based on different base programming languages.  Three main groups of open source GIS (outside of web GIS) in terms of programming languages are: “C” languages, Java, and .NET.

The first group would be the group that uses “C” language for its implementation. This is the more mature of the groups of open source GIS, probably for the simple reason that is the group that has been working on GIS software applications the longest and has a long history of resuse of code. The libraries in the “C” group, from the base infrastructure, and include some capabilities like coordinate reprojection that make them very useful and popular. Popular “C” based open source GIS software applications include GRASS, a project started in 1982 by the US Army but is now open source, and QGIS (otherwise known as Quantum GIS).

The second group of Open Source GIS would be the ones that use JAVA as the implementation language. JTS, central library for the Java GIS development, offers some geospatial functions that allow to compare objects and return a boolean true/false result indicating the existence (or absence) of any questioned spatial relationship. Other operators, like Union or Buffer,  which are very hard to code, are offered in this group making it very appreciated by GIS developers.  GeoTools, Geoserve, and OpenMap, are among the most popular open source GIS in this group of JAVA tools.

The third most influential group of Open Source GIS would be the one that integrates applications that use “.NET” as the implementation language. SharpMap and WorldWind are the most popular of these applications.

Outside of the three major language groups, open source web mapping is another group. Population open source web mapping includes OpenLayers and MapBuilder, widely used due to their simplicity and accessibility.

To learn GIS using open source software, read Sid Feygin’s article How to Go from GIS Novice to Pro without Spending a Dime which provides tips and resources.

Listed on the next page are available open source GIS based applications you can download written for a variety of platforms and in various languages categorized by desktop GIS and web mapping applications.



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9 Comments

  1. Hello Caitlin and All,
    I’m working with ArcView 9x and since I don’t have the topology editing tools available with this sort of licence, I’ve been looking for a free opensource tool with which I can use ArcGIS geodatabases and shapefiles. Any suggestions? Advice?
    Kelly

  2. astoundingly major omissions in the web mapping category….

    like: geoserver, mapguide open source, mapfish, openlayers, geomajas, worldkit, deegree, polymaps, mapnik, tile mill….

  3. Hi All,

    I am enquiring whether anybody has done a bench mark test between OSS and proprietary GIS software?

    1. http://wiki.osgeo.org/wiki/Benchmarking_2011

      the web mapping shootout happens every year at FOSS4G. Once in a blue moon a commercial vendor has the guts to enter the ring. The 900 # gorilla even said they were going to enter their web gis product in the shootout a couple years ago, but then backed out at the last minute. Claimed they didn’t have enough staff resources available – if you can believe that :)

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