Commercial vs. Open Source: A comparison of GIS Software

Commercial vs. Open Source: A comparison of GIS Software

We are conditioned to think that high price equals high value. Because of this, we always assume that something we’ve paid for is better than something free. But is that true in every case? Consider GIS software – is there a difference between open source and commercial GIS software?

Commercial mapping software pros and cons

  • User-friendly – High-powered and versatile commercial mapping software such as ArcGIS offers not only intuitive and easy-to-use interfaces, but a bevy of useful, built-in geospatial tools.
  • Excels at spatial analysis – Equipped with spatial technologies designed to quickly perform everything from network analysis, to land-use analysis, and more, commercial mapping software makes the analysis of geospatial data as simple as possible.
  • Excellent technical support – Because they are distributed by professional and well-established companies, commercial mapping software typically includes superb technical support. This ranges from extensive FAQ sections, to email assistance, to over-the-phone inquiries.
  • Stifle exploration and improvisation – While they possess a great number of spatial analysis and geoprocessing capabilities, commercial GIS software typically only does so on its own terms. If an analyst or developer needs a feature that the software does not possess, he or she must wait until the manufacturer of the software adds it. This forces the analyst or developer to work within the confines of the software, stifling technical exploration and improvisation, or create their own plugins and workarounds.
  • Scalability issues – Though they make GIS app development easy with built-in app-builder features, commercial GIS software also comes with some scalability concerns. Many commercial GIS software companies base each customer’s licensing costs on the number of people using the app. As a customer increases the use of the GIS software and adds more people, that customer is required to pay additional costs to the software manufacturer. These costs can build up quickly.

Open source mapping software pros and cons

  • Functions well for GIS app development – Though open source mapping software doesn’t possess app-builders that are as intuitive as the ones offered by commercial software, they do allow for cheap, personalized, and specific app development. In short, open source GIS software allows developers to tailor their apps so that they meet their exact specifications, all the while costing nothing in the way of software licensing fees.
  • Allows for exploration and improvisation – Using open source mapping software allows developers to have absolute license over the apps that they create. A developer needs a feature that hasn’t been created yet? That developer can immediately begin working on it, holding the fate of a project in his or her own hands without being dependent on an outside party. There are no strict software standards to keep developers confined from doing exactly what they want to do.
  • Works on most operating systems – While many commercial GIS software apps are only made for Windows operating systems, open source GIS software works with Windows, Mac, Linux, and more.
  • Lacks readily available tools – While open source mapping software such as QGIS possesses quite a few built-in tools for statistical analysis, spatial analysis, and geoprocessing, these tools require more intricate understanding, which may hinder the quality of analysis unless there’s a specialist working with these tools.
  • Inconsistent technical support – Although independent support contractors and online forums like StackExchange are a great place for users of open source mapping software to seek information and voice queries, most open source software doesn’t have officially established technical support lines.

Side-by-side comparison

We can compare the pros and cons graphed alongside each other. In the image below, each type of feature described above is measured on a 1-5 scale, from “none” being that a particular feature type is unavailable, to 5 being that the particular type of feature is great and commonly present in a particular set of tools.

Commercial vs open source gis software development intetics

From the graph it is evident that commercial GIS software (yellow line) is most useful when you need user friendly software with good technical support. This is especially relevant if you plan on conducting all of your GIS activities in-house and do not necessarily have software engineers on staff that can help you manage potential software problems that could arise. Open source GIS (pictured in green), on the other hand, is much easier to customize, scale and adapt to your existing software systems. Though, these features come at a cost – analysts working with these platforms have to have some experience with GIS software as there is limited support.

“Which Type of Mapping Software Should I Choose?”

Both commercial and open source GIS software have assisted in the development and analysis of some truly important projects. But, if this is so, then why would you ever pay thousands of dollars for something that you could get for free?

The choice of open source or commercial GIS mapping software depends on your project. While commercial GIS software is more user-friendly, and excels in the areas of spatial analysis, data manipulation, and data management, open source GIS software is better-suited for situations in which more freedom and customization is needed. Though open source technology is free, keep in mind that you will still have to invest in GIS developers and analysts to get the technology working right for you. Good applications using open source GIS tools include custom GIS app development and custom web mapping, to name a few.

To read about successful implementation of open source GIS mapping, check out our white paper.

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The main objective for the usual outsourcing company is to complete a certain amount of work in a specified period of time. At Intetics we are above usual since along with being consistent with technical requirements, we additionally always try to improve your data, your processes and your software. By engaging us you are getting an innovative and highly skilled team of GIS and software professionals to resolve your most complicated tasks and improve your production chain.

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