Open GIS

Following up from yesterday’s post about the Open Source Awards, here’s a new local discussion group about the use of open source software in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). As a web mapping company, we make heavy use of open source software in both the web and the mapping sides of our business: I’ll come back to the web side, but here are some quick notes on the open source GIS packages that we use.

  • PostGIS: I won’t make great claims for its performance, but the spatial extensions to PostgreSQL are pretty impressive and getting more powerful all the time.
  • MapServer: this hasn’t been our first choice for map tile rendering in most cases, but now that version 5.0 is out with its gorgeous anti-aliasing (thanks to the AGG library) it’s looking more and more appealing.
  • QuantumGIS: it’s not exactly ESRI or MapInfo, but it’s quite useful as a basic desktop GIS app, and the ability to export to SVG (for further tweaking and polishing in Inkscape, or for XML hacking) is great for publication work.
  • OGR utilities: indispensable! Good old-fashioned simple command-line tools for exploring, converting and generally mucking around with the obscure world of GIS data formats.

8 Responses to “Open GIS”

  1. Ben Says:

    Have you tried the engine they use for openlayers – its really nice – antialiased, polished and much more modern than mapserver.

  2. tom Says:

    I think openlayers is more of a tile viewing system than a map renderer, so it can use tiles created by any server. The Boston Free Map is one example that uses Mapserver 5.0 antialiased tiles, and it looks pretty good. I think I’ve heard something about OpenLayers being associated with GeoServer, but I’m not sure. GeoServer could definitely be worth looking into, but I think that MapServer is now ready to do what we want. It would certainly be nice not to have to wrangel with Manifold any more!

  3. Ben Says:

    Mapnik was what I meant!

    Fucking antispam

  4. tom Says:

    Mapnik does look good, but I don’t think it’s quite as full-featured as MapServer: more of a library than a package. The rendering quality seems similar now that MapServer has AGG, according to this comparison.

  5. Ben Says:

    Cool – that does look good. Looking forward to seeing new tiles from you guys! Have you got rendering over ec2 + s3 working? That’d be really awesome – you could rerender the world overnight. 🙂

  6. izo Says:

    Were you guys using mapserver to generate tiles on your zoomin website ?

  7. tom Says:

    We used to, and the Australian site is still based on MapServer tiles. But Manifold (one of the few non-Open Source tools we use operationally) offered much better cartographic output, so the NZ tiles are currently rendered with that. We’ve done some other rendering entirely in MapServer, though, and I like its power and flexibility, so we may look to use it soon now that 5.0 is producing such clean output.

  8. tom2 Says:

    @ben : please explain how “more modern” == better fit for a given task , especially from a user’s point of view

    @tom : glad you find the new rendering usefull. please don’t hesitate to post your impressions or suggestions to the mapserver mailing list. as that functionality is quite new, any feedback on what you get vs. what you expected is welcome.

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