Build Your GIS: Choosing Software

GIS SoftwareGIS software provides the functionality to create, manipulate, analyze and display maps and geographic data [learn more].

GIS software can be relatively simple or extremely complex and should be selected based on its appropriateness to your needs and cost-benefit analysis. Keep in mind your immediate as well as future GIS needs when making your GIS software decision.

Simple Mapping Options

Simple mapping options provide functionality to view and print maps. Simple mapping options take the form ofviewers or readers, which provide little to no GIS functionality. If your needs are simple, these software options are effective as they are either free or very cheap (<US$400), provide the needed map presentation and interface with internet mapping services like Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth for further enhancement.

This software option provides very limited spatial analysis capability & usually doesn’t meet the needs of GIS people or organisation, but rather the needs of simple users.

Desktop GIS Options

Desktop GIS options provide the necessary spatial capabilities for GIS software, but to an extent depending on the type of data you intend or expect to handle.

Simple GIS Software: If you are limiting the data you intend to use to demographic data represented via a map presentation, then simple GIS software like Microsoft MapPoint or ESRI BusinessMap is appropriate. These options are affordable (<US$700) and provide extensive attribute data analysis capability referenced simply to spatial data. Subsquently, natural resource or geographic management is not best served by this options.

Basic GIS Software: this is appropriate if you require a fully featured GIS software that allows access to a wide range of data, perform relatively robust analyses and produce highly effective maps. An example is ESRI’s ArcView. This option is effective as GIS software provide your needs for spatial data editting is limited and your need focus more on spatial and attribute data analysis. The cost of this software ranges from $1,000-2,000, with annual maintenance fees of $2-300 per installation.

Advanced GIS Software: Expert-user software that can perform just about any function you might need. This software includes an extensive array of options and modules. The most well-known brand is the ESRI ArcInfo, though few make use of this type of software given cost ($10,000-20,000 per license) with hefty annual maintenance fees ($2-3,000 per user per year). Similar options but more cost effective offerings are available, namely Information Software System’s IntelliGIS. IntelliGIS provides very similar extent of functionality of say ArcInfo and ArcEditor, but at a more reasonable cost (approx. US$1000). This GIS software option provides the bulk of GIS functionality you’ll require & is intended to provide the professional land management & GIS solution.

3 Responses to Build Your GIS: Choosing Software

  • Srikanth says:

    We’re building a spaieelizcd platform using ArcGIS Server 10 & FlexViewer as foundation. Thank goodness, everything I needed to find I found in the API spec and the forums, so ESRI couldn’t make a dime more off me than the actual Server 10 & Desktop 10 license.We have absolutely no need for all the high-level features and other ESRI baloney, in general the GIS now comprises less than 10% of the whole application.The more advanced visualization stuff I had to code more-or-less myself, although extending ESRI’s flex API. Things that I thought would be in a commercial GIS product were not there. Not only that, but the bugs are overwhelming. Sometimes, I load the app in the browser, and ArcGIS dynamic layers won’t render, issuing an HTTP error. This disappears when I simply reload the app. Only thought: If you want to annoy your customer, use ArcGIS 10. Have you seen FlexViewer’s source code? It’s like *insert company name here, perhaps starting with M* releasing its source for everybody to find the bugs and design flaws.In the meantime, I’ve developed my own GIS server/client framework, using PostGIS and modestmaps (strictly what we need), and base64-string-encoded REST transfers. I haven’t had the pleasure to integrate it yet (busy with other, more important things), but we’re dumping ArcGIS ASAP. Curses to the guy who proposed to use it in the first place.

    • Sofia says:

      There is just way too much to respond to on this thaerd, some non-sense, some legit complaints, but mostly user-error. As Ojaybee alludes to, this is advanced software. You have to hit all the right conditions for it to work properly. Many people could use open source GIS, but mostly it pales in comparison to the advanced features of ESRI software (& support/forums/blogs!).I love you guys like Pete (April 24, 2012 at 9:23 pm) who work for hours without saving, or verifying your data. Pete your problem was your spatial reference grid was set improperly. Now, this is new in Arc 10, so it’s only 99% your fault but you should have read up on these things. Again, complicated software, complicated processes. Who works for hours without saving edits?? Get real don’t blame ESRI for your mess.It’s true, there area downfalls. Iteration in Arc 10 (as of SP2) simply does not work correctly. The iterator’ doesn’t properly iterate’. It’s true, ESRI support and sales reps don’t have all the answers; when I send them problems, they often have to check in with redlands. For me, sometimes I smile, as I feel I know more than they do, but again, they is really complicated shit! Think of all the lines of code in this software, and we take it all for granted that it should work in 99.9% of all cases.My last point working with ArcObjects to script and create add-ins and/or external programs is an absolute joy. The integration (once setup see complicated shit line above) is flawless and the object models are, for the most part, easy to follow. Even server side scripts which integrate with webmaps are relatively easy to program.Those of you who are complaining, unless you are stuck’ with ESRI like Pete, go and use qgis. Have fun, best of luck doing anything remotely complex.CheersTom

    • Auth says:

      Not true. QGis standalone is way more fucoitnnal IMO than ArcView, but when you add feature plugins for GRASS, GDAL, PostGIS and a few others, you’ve got a robust platform that ESRI could only aspire to be. ESRI has made several critical engineering errors over the years, starting with their decision to release on a completely one-off platform (PrimeOS) and use that platform’s scripting language (PML) as a model for their API, then moving the a module architecture where the modules couldn’t communicate with each other (ArcEdit to ArcPlot for example). However, their biggest engineering blunder was to throw all their marbles onto the Microsoft .NET platform.Amazingly, for all their engineering shortcomings, the one thing that keeps them above the competition is their charismatic leader and through that, their locked-in relationship with the federal government. Since the feds selected ESRI as their platform de jour, we are sadly at the mercy of this crappy platform. Hell, Genasys had a way better and more open platform, but lacked a Dangermond.FWIW, if a geospatial problem can’t be solved with open source tools like GRASS, GDAL, QGis, PostGIS and/or MapServer it simply can’t be done. ESRI’s one advantage, however, is their ability to polish a turd with their hardcopy output tools.

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