30/08/2011

Between Proprietary GIS and Open Source GIS


Let's side track today away from QGIS but to open source GIS in general, to a topic I once wrote because people kept pestering me about it. Firstly, it is wrong to compare between the two since it is unethical to criticize something for what is obtained free.  It is like a beggar who starts to complain to a donor for giving so little charity. That is just plain rude! But humans being humans as we are, here goes:


Proprietary GIS traditonally rules the GIS scene and ESRI had a 20 year start. Mapinfo, another popular alternative recognizes itself more as a desktop mapping software as shown on it's package box yet it does that well, play the role of a GIS and does a good job of filling the niche. Open Source GIS has been around for some time, for example, GRASS GIS developed by the US Army now with a wealth of analytical commands covering vector, raster, database and imaging processing began in the 1980s. Open Source GIS got popular in the late 2000, to exemplify, Quantum GIS (QGIS) launched its first stable version only in 2009 but is rapidly gaining popularity because it is multi-platform, comes in many languages, has an active mailing list and forum and is known to be very user-friendly. Proprietary GIS are by no means cheap and range between RM8,000-RM10,000/pax. Annual fee is about an additional 10% of that to get user support and updates. With that amount, the alternative is 2-3 computers. Furthermore, supporting modules for proprietary GIS are not come cheap too and range between half to equal the cost of a basic GIS software. Thus, from a cost saving-point-of-view, Open Source GIS is a more feasible option and wins hands-down. When an agency has more computers, it is easier to distribute workload and from an office productivity point-of-view, Open Source GIS is a wiser move. Proprietary GIS and Open Source GIS also have different ideology: the former being individualism while the latter appreciates knowledge-sharing and strategize on the benefits that come in multiples like a multi-level marketing concept. Open source GIS touches on intangible issues and one that deals with matters of the heart as it strieves for GIS community betterment. A customized Open Source module may or may not be free but can be shared many times without the burden of having to pay licence and Open Source developers are willing to follow advice if they acknowledge a suggestion can improves the software. This is not so under Proprietary GIS as they go for a different approach. GIS is such a sophisticated tool and can be utilized by a variety of organizations/agencies and since different people have different needs and expectations, it is up to the user to choose. Still, Open Source GIS being free as it is, is worth a try and if found unsuitable to do a particular job, can always be uninstalled like they say, the proof is in the pudding.


Note: The original article first appeared at malaysiagis on 7.8.2011.

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