Upcoming Presentation on Open Source GIS Software

12 February 2009

I’ll be doing a presentation on open source GIS software at the upcoming Newtech Conference in Warrnambool on the 26th of March. Here’s the abstract I’ve submitted.

Introduction to Free and Open Source Geospatial Software
Simon O’Keefe, Geospatial Systems Developer, Groundtruth Mapping Systems

Free and open source geospatial technologies are currently delivering real benefits to organisations around the world via a model of collaborative development and zero software licensing costs. It’s time for local businesses and authorities to start exploring how we can make use of the global open source movement to equip our organisations and users with high quality GIS software.

This presentation discusses why users and developers are turning to open source software and which open source GIS applications are being used right now by local and overseas organisations. The presentation will conclude with a showcase of ‘Sweeping Plains’, a municipal web mapping application developed by Groundtruth Mapping Systems using open source technologies.

I’m looking forward to giving people a peek at what I’ve discovered over the past couple of years of researching open source GIS software.


Victorian Municipal GIS Makes The News

24 September 2008

The use of aerial photography and GIS by Victorian municipalities was the topic for an article in The Age today. Pity that the title implies that it’s all about spying on citizens.

Liberty Victoria, an organisation I usually side with on important issues, calls for ‘tougher regulation of satellite mapping’. I’m not sure if they’re saying that imagery need to blurred, or that council employees should be the only people not allowed to look at it.

The article makes specific mention of IntraMaps at Stonnington City Council, which I’ve seen in action, and it’s a great system.

What is Sweeping Plains?

22 April 2008

It’s about time I came up with a product description (or a teaser) for Sweeping Plains. Here it is:

For municipalities who can’t afford to develop and maintain their own web-based Geographic Information System, Sweeping Plains is an externally hosted and managed website that provides the public with an easy-to-use map interface for accessing valuable council information.

Unlike MapInfo Exponare Public or ESRI EView, Sweeping Plains combines advanced mapping software, web hosting, data maintenance and professional map design in a pre-configured package.

(Thanks to the book Crossing The Chasm for helping trim down what would have been a long and boring list of features and benefits.)

If that sounds useful to your organisation, contact Groundtruth Mapping Systems. Or stay tuned as I provide further updates and working samples.

MapInfo Joins The Party

1 April 2008

MapInfo have finally announced that they’re going add support the spatial component of SQL Server 2008 to MapInfo Professional. It’s due out in MIPro 9.5 in ‘summer’ of 2008 – that’s northern hemisphere talk for June to August. Now we just have to wait for MapXtreme to catch up so that Exponare users can benefit.

Making Open Source GIS Solutions Presentable

14 November 2007

Two months after the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial  FOSS4G2007 conference, and I still marvel at the dedication and man-hours that go into these open source projects. One presentation that I attended said that, so far, 26 person-years has been sunk into their particular application.

I continue to wonder though, that amongst all those person-years, whether any given month or so would have made as much difference to user adoption as just getting a professionally designed logo. (They cost about $150.) Or a website front page that welcomed and invited real users. (Free, if you strip out the talk about licensing arrangements and code contributions.)

Directions Mag described the conference in terms of the maturity of the community and the readiness of these programs to compete on the world stage. I do hope that, sooner rather than later, these programs don a suit and tie, so to speak, and I’ll be happy to introduce them to my customers.

The Future of MapInfo SpatialWare

25 October 2007

After a phone discussion yesterday with a fellow GIS contractor and MapInfo specialist about MapInfo charging ludicrous amounts for SpatialWare, it was funny to come across this article:


The main topic is about some partnership between Microsoft and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). The interesting part for me was halfway down where is says “Microsoft will submit the SQL Server 2008 geometry datatype for compliance to the Open GIS® Simple Features for SQL standard.”

I may be wrong, but to me that sounds like any OGC compliant application should be able to read and write map objects within SQL Server 2008.

At the least, this is the end of the road for SpatialWare. And at the extreme, it’s the end of TAB files, and of MapInfo’s position in the marketplace as the company that had the only set of tools for viewing and manipulating the majority of my clients’ geographic data.


12 October 2007

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.