FOSS4G2007

I’m now settled back home in Australia after attending the annual Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G2007) conference in Victoria, Canada. Here’s what I learnt.

By way of some background, I specialise in providing GIS consulting services to Victorian (AU) municipalities, and my only experience so far of open source geospatial software has been just using FWTools to do some batch file conversions. So the conference was a real eye-opener for me, seeing teams of dedicated developers producing and showing off some surprisingly sophisticated products and solutions.

I went to FOSS4G2007 hoping to learn about the various tools I would need in order to develop a web-based GIS that I could centrally manage on behalf of my clients. What I didn’t expect to find was a ready-to-use application that worked the way I needed out of the box.

But I found exactly that in MapGuide Open Source, as demoed by Jason Birch of the City of Nanaimo (BC, Canada) at a 10-minute lunchtime demo on the first day. I could have gone home there and then! But over the remainder of the conference, I had the opportunity to see MapGuide in action in other scenarios, chat to the MapGuide developers, and also to DM Solutions, who are doing some nice add-on components to MapGuide and contributing their work back to the core product. As well as getting a glimpse at the technology behind the software on display, I also gained an appreciation of open source business models, and what motivates companies to develop in open source. I know that DM Solutions will be my first point of call when I need help customising MapGuide.

Brian Bishop, from the OSGeo Aust-NZ mailing list, mentioned in his email to the list from the conference about the Spatial Data Integrator product by CampToCamp. I think it’s worth repeating. It’s basically a free and open source ‘FME‘. It means my clients (or I) don’t have to pay for a $5000 version of FME each just to do scheduled data extraction tasks. (Currently I use MapBasic scripts, but this looks a lot more robust.) I talked to one of the developers, and he said they were due to release a new version about now. There’s not much information about this product on the web yet (in English anyway), but I’ve added myself to their announcement mailing list: http://www.talend.com/campaign/campaign.php?id=191&src=C2cInitial_sep07

At the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Brian Bishop and Tim Bowden from the OSGeo Aust-NZ mailing list. Tim’s repeated proclamation at the end of the conference that ‘GIS Is Dead’ provided a few laughs. I think his point was that geospatial information shouldn’t be treated any differently to other corporate information. I agree. Still, I’ll continue to use the term ‘GIS’ to describe the marketplace in which I operate. An alternative term like ‘The Market For Geospatial Products And Services Left Wanting By Big Spatial And Non-Spatial Software Vendors’ seems like a bit of a mouthful to me.

So, I left the conference happy, knowing that I’m now armed with everything I need to get moving on my web-based GIS project. But I also discovered a real community and common understanding of what the world should look like – one in which developers naturally share and build on each other’s work, benefiting everyone involved. Recurring themes of the conference seemed to be OpenLayers, QGIS, PostGIS, Mapserver, MapGuide, OSGeo, Google, and of course, ESRI bashing.

Will I go to next year’s conference in South Africa? If I do, I’ll either be showing off my awesome new web-based municipal GIS (sorry Tim), or desperately scouring the trade booths for help.

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