A wide variety of GIS
software packages are available on the market today covering both desktop and web/intranet
based GIS applications. Open
source desktop GIS software
packages include offerings such as GRASS, Quantum GIS, uDig and SAGA GIS; whilst closed source
offerings include ESRI ArcGIS, Pitney Bowes MapInfo and Intergraph GeoMedia to name a few. It
is beyond the scope of this document to assess the relative merits of each of the available
software packages but a needs assessment should be considered before selecting a GIS package(s) for use in an operational
setting - considering the analytical processes outlined in sections 1.1 - 1.5.
Open source software is an instantly appealing option due to its open source code base and the
fact that it's free to use, however there are other considerations that must be taken into
consideration outside of basic software functionality. Support for open source software varies
as does the quality of accompanying documentation. Certainly there tend to be good user
communities and forums but if you want formalised technical support a consultant would likely
need to be contracted. Training offerings for open source packages are also fewer in number and
in general open source software tends to be more difficult to use, suffering from poorer
quality Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs). The ability to recruit staff with a skill base in open
source software should also be a consideration. Although more and more GIS professionals are coming into contact
with open source offerings it is likely to be more challenging to recruit staff with those
skills as opposed to skills in a market leading software solutions such as ESRI ArcGIS.
Generally speaking, closed source offerings such as ESRI ArcGIS and Pitney Bowes MapInfo tend
to offer more integrated GIS
solutions linking data management, desktop and intranet/internet GIS environments into a more easily manageable workflow.
They represent many years of development and tend to offer a more feature rich, user friendly
experience, including good quality GUIs and better quality documentation. However, these benefits
obviously come with a price attached and these can be substantial in large implementations.
Closed source GIS software
also tends to benefit from good telephone/email support (if paid for) and a wider variety of
training programs being available (again, at a cost).