You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to map the world.
As you’re about to see, there’s a bucket load of free GIS software packages available with the capability to:
- Perform hundreds of advanced GIS processing tasks.
- Generate stunning cartography and mapping products.
- Manage your company’s geospatial assets efficiently.
The best part is:
These free GIS software mapping options give you enough firepower to get the job done as if you’re working with commercial GIS software.
I personally tested 13 of the top free mapping software packages online.
Read this jam-packed guide to open source GIS:
1. QGIS – Formerly Quantum GIS
With striking similarities and even upgrades to ArcGIS in certain areas, QGIS is undoubtedly the #1 free GIS software package.
QGIS is jam-packed with hidden gems at your fingertips. Automate map production, process geospatial data, and generate drool-worthy cartographic figures.
There’s no other free maping software on this list that lets you map like a rock star than QGIS.
Volunteer effort is key to its success. The QGIS Stack Exchangesupport is impressively great.
You’d be insane not to download the free GIS software QGIS.
2. Whitebox GAT
Yes, Whitebox GAT (Geospatial Analysis Toolbox) is #2 on my list of open source, free GIS software.
Unbelievably, Whitebox GAT has only been around since 2009 because it feels so fine-tuned when you see it in action.
There’s a hydrology theme around Whitebox GAT. It actually replaced Terrain Analysis System (TAS) – a tool for hydro-geomorphic applications.
Where it shines is LIDAR!
With no barriers, Whitebox GAT is the swiss-army knife of LiDAR processing.
The LiDAR toolbox is a life-saver. LAS to shapefile is an insanely useful tool. You may need a Java update to go in full throttle though.
The cartographic mapping software tools are primitive compared to QGIS.
But overall Whitebox GAT is solid with over 410 tools to clip, convert, analyze, manage, buffer and extract geospatial information.
I find it amazing this free GIS software almost goes unheard of in the GIS industry.
Get more useful knowledge from the Whitebox GAT Open Source Blog.
3. GRASS GIS
GRASS GIS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System) was developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers as a tool for land management and environmental planning.
It has evolved into a free GIS software option for different areas of study.
Academia, environment consultants and government agencies (NASA, NOAA, USDA and USGS) use GRASS GIS because of its intuitive GUI and its reliability.
It has over 350 rock-solid vector and raster manipulation tools.
Not awfully useful in cartographic design, GRASS GIS excels primarily as a free GIS software option for analysis, image processing, digital terrain manipulation and statistics.
4. SAGA GIS
SAGA GIS (System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses) is one of the classics in the world of free GIS software.
It started out primarily for terrain analysis such as hillshading, watershed extraction and visibility analysis.
Now, SAGA GIS is a powerhouse because it delivers a fast growing set of geoscientific methods to the geoscientific community.
Enable multiple windows to lay out all your analysis (map, histograms, scatter plots, attributes, etc). It provides both a user-friendly GUI and API.
It’s not particularly useful in cartography. The lack of scale bars, north arrows symbology and grids are telltale signs of this.
Overall, it’s quick, reliable and accurate. Consider SAGA GIS a prime choice for environmental modeling and other applications.
Read more at http://gisgeography.com/free-gis-software/
A very detailed tutorial for deriving surface temperature from Landsat data using QGIS and Semi-Automatic Classification Plugin.
Download the tutorial pdf (link)
A QGIS specific free GIS dataset is available for downloading from the Quantarctica site (QGIS + Antarctica). The GIS data contains geography, glaciology and geophysics data originally developed for in-house use at the the Norwegian Polar Institute. Quantarctica was first released for public consumption in July of 2013 and there are plans to expand the data offerings with contributions from the research community. The data is free for noncommercial use.
Users can download a base package which is 7GB in size. The base package includes GIS base map vector and raster data, and scientific data covering geophysics and glaciology. Geography data includes place name, facility, grounded ice, ice shelf, and outcrops. Glaciology data includes ice thickness, ice-flow speed, and subglacial lakes. Geophysics data includes geoid heights, and magnetic anomalies. The data is available at a range of scales from continental to local.
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