[OSGeo-Discuss] Can I do the same GIS tasks with OS (as with ESRI)?

John Callahan john.callahan at UDel.Edu
Thu Apr 24 19:49:36 PDT 2008

I've been an ESRI user (AV 3.x, ArcGIS 8/9, ArcIMS, ArcGIS Server, 
ArcSDE) for 12+ years and have recently started exploring FOSS 
software.  And I haven't disagreed with any of the responses so far.  
You will definitely need multiple programs to do what a single ESRI 
program can do.  IMO, this is a good thing.  One of the main reasons for 
my migration is I'm tired of running large, complicated, expensive 
software and all the extra baggage that comes with it to use only 10% of 
what the software can do. (see ArcGIS Server.)

You can do all the analysis and more of ArcGIS Desktop and extensions 
using GRASS, QGIS, SAGA, GeoTools, GDAL/OGR, PROJ4, or R Statistics 
along with a programming language like Python, Java or others.  (IMO, 
this is a better solution than ESRI.)    You can do just about anything 
you want on the web server end with MapServer, GeoServer, FeatureServer 
(and maybe TileCache or GeoNetwork for metadata) with any of a dozen or 
more clients (OpenLayers, ka-Map, MapGuide etc...).  And you can do a 
lot of database work with Postgres/PostGIS, a much simpler, less costly 
solution than ArcSDE+RDBMS.  And I wouldn't count out the role of free, 
non-open source packages like Google products and Oracle Express (11g 
should have Spatial included.)

 From my experience (limited in the FOSS world), I have found three 
basic hurdles:

1) Cartography.  Whether on the screen, PDF outputs, or print 
publications, ArcMap is easy and looks great. (Although R Statistics 
produces better looking charts and graphs than ArcGIS.)

2) Versioned editing.  This is important for groups with multiple 
concurrent editors or that has a particular hierarchical workflow with 
their GIS data.

3) Storage and serving of very large (50+ GB) raster datasets.  PostGIS 
does not support rasters yet; Oracle Spatial does though.  I'm still not 
sure if storing rasters in a database is a good idea but ArcSDE sure 
makes it easy, and with good performance when used in conjunction with 
other ESRI products.

In the end, we have decided to move all of our web work to open source.  
For spatial analysis, we'll also move to open source.  For Desktop, 
we'll have a mix of ArcGIS Desktop as well as QGIS, GRASS and maybe SAGA 
and/or OSSIM.  For storage, we'll be maybe 505/50 with 
PostGIS+file-based rasters and ArcSDE/Oracle.    Hope this helps.  This 
sure is a fun and exciting time!

- John

Jennifer Horsman wrote:
> The thread that was started today with the subject "Your open source 
> career" got me thinking about asking a question that has been rolling 
> around in my head. This is pointed at those people who have experience 
> with ESRI products as well as OS GIS products.
> I have been a long-time user of ESRI products, but I want to start my 
> own contract business and will not be able to afford the license for 
> ArcGIS/ArcInfo. So I recently set up a Linux box with GRASS installed, 
> but it has been over 10 years since I have used GRASS (it has probably 
> changed since then too!)
> Does GRASS have the same analysis and display capabilities as ArcGIS? 
> I know this is a very general question, so perhaps another question 
> would be where does GRASS fall short and where does it excel in 
> comparison to the ESRI products?
> Thanks,
> Jennifer
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