Part 6: QGIS (Quantum GIS)
Eleven years ago, Gary Sherman began developing a GIS viewer for the Linux desktop. Though the early progress was slow, the project gradually accumulated more contributors over the years. Today, QGIS is a true grassroots open source software application with thousands of users around the world.
There are many reasons to like QGIS. Of all the open source GIS software applications I’ve tested, I feel it has the greatest combination of power and ease of use. It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and its small file size allows it to run smoothly on older computers that would otherwise crash if they tried to run ESRI’s ArcGIS. Numerous user-contributed “plugins” are also available for solving a variety of tasks that are typically written in Python.
Another factor that adds to its user-friendliness is that so much help is available online. Aside from the homepage, there are so many helpful bloggers, one can easily ‘Google’ a QGIS question to find a solution. The Quantum GIS Planet only lists a portion of what’s out there.
For those who are completely new to open source GIS in general, Gary Sherman has written a helpful book, The Geospatial Desktop.
Though QGIS is a favorite open source GIS application for many (in a very few ways, it is even superior to ArcGIS), don’t rush out to replace your proprietary software yet. Open source GIS is still limited to open data formats and simple geometric features, and I know at least one person who found the lack of pre-installed symbology disappointing.
Nevertheless, QGIS is a popular and fast growing open source GIS for the desktop, with a large number of fans, users, and regular contributors. See this year’s Google Summer of Code for QGIS and OSGeo.
In two weeks, Part 7, GDAL/OGR…
Part 5: Open JUMP (Open Java Unified Mapping Platform)
In 2002, JUMP was created by Vivid Solutions as part of a Canadian environmental project for conflating road and river GIS features.
The software turned out to be versatile, and a user group quickly formed around it. When the environmental project came to an end, representatives from various elements of this user group banded together to prevent the source code from fragmenting. The software was unified using the “OpenJUMP” name, licensed under the GPL.
Today, the software continues to be developed by volunteers and varous companies around the globe, including Landon Blake, who is a regular speaker at CalGIS and other GIS conferences in California.
Amongst the open source GIS community, the software is best known for its well-developed drawing tools and user-friendliness. It is also known for its support for conflation, and I find the home page to be extremely helpful for beginners who would like to learn more.
This free software still has some shortcomings. Per the home page, the software does not work well with very large files, and its support for cartographic projections is limited. However, if your project needs a great drawing tool, and you are able to keep project components bite-sized, this software is a great addition to your GIS toolkit.
In two weeks, Part 6, QGIS…
Thanks to Mike Carson from SoCalGIS for passing along:
This is a helpful resource for folks looking to improve their maps. They have online resources for:
- Colours (or colors as we like to spell it).
- Map inspiration
Check it out here.
uDig (User-friendly Desktop Internet GIS)
True to it’s name, one of this user friendly desktop GIS application’s strengths is its support of geospatial web service layers (WMS, WFS, WCS, KML).
This relatively new software is produced by a community led by Canadian-based consulting company Refractions Research. With the project’s recent acceptance by LocationTech, the open source licensing was updated. Under this new dual license (EPL and BSD), uDIG is still a free download.
One of the reasons uDIG is generating interest in the Open Source GIS community is that it shares its use of GeoTools with Geoserver.
My experience? uDig is one of those simple programs that opens a little faster than ArcMap. Once open, you can drag and drop a shape file into your uDig map for viewing with Open Street Map as a background. Did I mention it’s free?
In two weeks, Part 5: OpenJUMP…
gvSIG (Generalitat Valenciana, Sistema d’Informació Geogràfica)
In 2004, one of Spain’s regional government agencies, seeing the benefits of community-driven support and development, began a migration to free and open source software to suit their operational needs.
With local and EU government funding, gvSIG saw a lot of professional development from 2004-2008. Since 2009, development has declined.
I admit having a bias for using Quantum GIS (it will be covered later), gvSIG is said to have some innovative qualities worth investigating.
Though I’ll admit having a bias for using Quantum GIS (to be covered later), being aware of a wide variety of software projects is an important part of expanding one’s software toolkit. gvSIG is said to have some innovative qualities worth investigating.
In two weeks, Part 4: uDIG…
GRASS (Geographic Resource Analysis Support System)
Just as every skilled craftsman accumulates a variety of tools for the daily work, GIS professionals continually expand and evolve their software knowledge base.
While ArcGIS users are accustomed to working within the framework of Basic, Standard, and Advanced levels of licensing, open source GIS users gather their tools from a multitude of places. GRASS will be the first of the desktop applications this series will cover.
GRASS is the granddaddy of all open source GIS applications. With roots almost as old as ESRI’s ARC/INFO, it was originally developed by the U.S. Military as a tool for managing military-owned lands in the early 1980s. Today, GRASS’ software development is managed by a multinational team, licensed under the GPL.
GRASS is free, extremely powerful, and contains over 350 programs and tools for managing and analysing data. There is a learning curve for first time use; luckily, not too long ago, GRASS’ coordinator Markus Neteler uploaded this introductory full day workshop with videos. Plenty of supporting documentation is also available on the homepage, and there is a useful book on the subject.
If GRASS’ learning curve isn’t for you, fret not. The other upcoming software applications covered in this series are gui-driven and extremely user-friendly.
Next blog in four weeks, Part 3: gvSIG…
Not all open source licenses are alike.
Whether using Firefox to browse the web or using LibreOffice to type a research paper, we enjoy an ever increasing pool of powerful, free software applications. Far fewer of us are familiar with the licensing that allows us to freely use and share open source software.
To help clarify concepts of open data, open standards, and open source software, ESRI published an article in last summer’s addition of ArcNews, Defining Open.
Some open source licenses allow their code to be distributed with proprietary software, while others do not. One example is Mac OS X, containing portions derived from FreeBSD. Elements of Linux, licensed under the GPL, will not be found on your Mac.
Far from having an “us versus them” mentality towards open source, ESRI is an active member of the Open Source Community. To keep abreast of their efforts, visit esri.com/opensource.
Next blog in two weeks, Part 2: GRASS…
The LA County GIS Viewer is fully running. The objective of the GIS Viewer is to publicize the County’s GIS authoritative data holdings and enable wide access to them through a powerful set of web-based GIS tools. Click on the image below to launch the viewer or go to http://gis.lacounty.gov/gisviewer. You will need to install Microsoft’s Silverlight tool in order to utilize the viewer.
For further information or to download the training manual and see training videos, go to the “GIS Applications” menu and then click on “LA County GIS Viewer”.
In the world of open source software, one fact is clear. Everyone has different opinions about which software they prefer. Newcomers to open source GIS software are often confused by a seemingly chaotic mix of software applications.
So where do we start learning?
For the newcomers, this is an introduction to a short series of blogs covering the most commonly known open source GIS applications for the desktop, plus a few key concepts. The software is free for anyone to install and is typically user-friendly to those already familiar with ESRI’s ArcGIS. The future topics are listed below.
Part 1: Defining Open – Not All Open Source Licenses are Alike
Part 2: GRASS (Geographic Resource Analysis Support System)
Part 3: gvSIG (Generalitat Valenciana, Sistema d’Informació Geogràfica)
Part 4: uDIG (User-friendly Desktop Internet GIS)
Part 5: Open JUMP (Open Java Unified Mapping Platform)
Part 6: QGIS (Quantum GIS)
Part 7: GDAL/OGR - (Geospatial Data Abstraction Library/OGR Simple Features Library)
Part 8: An Open Source Alternative to the File Geodatabase (Sort of)
Part 9: A Few Notes About Map Projections
Part 10: OSGEO, The Organization
Part 11: Why Learn About Open Source GIS?
In the spirit of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, think of this series as an introductory tour of your local open air market for open source GIS. If anyone has any ideas to contribute, please send me an email!
Next blog in two weeks…
I have completed working with Pictometry to make an important change to the parcels shown Pictometry Online. There is a new layer called Parcels (Streamed) which is coming directly from the County’s servers, and is updated weekly.
In the past, parcel data was uploaded to Pictometry and pre-rendered in a Web Mapping Service (WMS) – cached for speed.
The new parcel data is streamed from the County’s servers to POL through a Web Feature Service (WFS), and rendered locally.
You will most likely notice that the streamed layer is slower than the cached layer (especially upon initial load). For now I will maintain both layers, but the cached layer hasn’t been updated in about 6 months, so I believe that currency is more important that speed at this point.
There are two parcel layers at this time – try each one and determine which one you think works better for you.