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Free GIS Software Options: Map the World in Open Source

30 Jul

Free GIS Software Options: Map the World in Open Source

Your search for free GIS software is now over

You don’t have to pay a king’s ransom to map the world.

This is because you can do it all with free GIS software.

The best part is:

These free GIS software give you the firepower to get the job done as if you’re working with commercial GIS software.

We’ve mapped out the GIS software landscape , but these 13 (out of 30) reign supreme for free mapping software.

1 QGIS – Formerly Quantum GIS

QGIS (Quantum GIS)

After running the most epic GIS Software battle in GIS history of ArcGIS vs QGIS, we illustrated with 27 differences why 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 mapping software on this list that lets you map like a rock star than QGIS.

QGIS Plugins boost this mapping software into a state of epicness. If the tool doesn’t exist, search for plugin developed by the QGIS community.

Volunteer effort is key to its success. The QGIS Stack Exchange support is impressively great.

You’d be insane not to download the free GIS software QGIS. Here’s your beginner’s guide to QGIS to get your feet wet.



In 2004, the gvSIG project emerged as a free, open source GIS software option in Spain.

We illustrate in this gvSIG guide and review why we like it SO much:

gvSIG really outperforms QGIS for 3D. It really is the best 3D visualization available in open source GIS.

The NavTable is agile in that it allows you to see records one-by-one vertically.

The CAD tools are impressive on gvSIG. Thanks to the OpenCAD Tools, you can trace geometries, edit vertices, snap and split lines and polygons.

gvSIG Mobile brings GIS to your mobile phone. This extension is perfect for field work because of its interface and GPS tools.

3 Whitebox GAT

WhiteBox GAT

Yes, Whitebox GAT (Geospatial Analysis Toolbox) is #3 on the 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.

Whitebox GAT is really a full-blown open-access GIS and remote sensing software package.

Where it shines is LIDAR!

With no barriers, Whitebox GAT is the swiss-army knife of LiDAR data.

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.



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 but it’s a lifesaver in terrain analysis.

Closing gaps in raster data sets is easy. The morphometry tools are unique including the SAGA topographic wetness index and topographic position classification. If you have a DEM, and don’t know what to do with it – you NEED to look at SAGA GIS.

Overall, it’s quick, reliable and accurate. Consider SAGA GIS a prime choice for environmental modeling and other applications.



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.

6 MapWindow

MapWindow GIS
MapWindow GIS

With MapWindow, you can do GIS without the dependency of commercial GIS software.

Once commercial GIS software in 2000… since 2004 it’s become open source GIS through a contract with the US EPA called ‘Basins’. The source code was released to the public.

MapWindow does about 90% of what GIS users need – map viewer, identify features, processing tools and print layout.

It has some higher level tools such as TauDEM for automatic watershed delineation.

Sometimes, it’s unstable, unsmooth…

When you start separating the winners from the losers, MapWindow surprisingly has some serious punch.

It’s being re-architected with a model builder tool, tiling, table editing and a ribbon style menu for version 5.



Free GIS software users rejoice.

Once commercial GIS software, now turned into open source GIS.

ILWIS (Integrated Land and Water Information Management) is an oldie but a goodie.

The extinction-proof ILWIS is free GIS software for planners, biologists, water managers and geospatial users.

ILWIS is good at the basics – digitizing, editing, displaying geographic data.

Further to this, it’s also used for remote sensing with tools for image classification, enhancements and spectral band manipulation.

8 GeoDa

GeoDa Software
GeoDa Software

GeoDa is a free GIS software program primarily used to introduce new users into spatial data analysis.

It’s main functionality is geostatistics.

Perform autocorrelation, descriptive and regression statistics with GeoDa. See GeoDa’s complete list of features for everything.

It’s an exciting analytical tool which includes lab users from Harvard, MIT and Cornell universities.

This free GIS sifted serves as a gentle introduction to spatial analysis for non-GIS users.

It’s used in a range of areas such as economic development health and real estate.

9 uDig


uDIG is an acronym to help get a better understanding what this Free GIS software is all about.

  • u stands for user-friendly interface
  • D stands for desktop (Windows, Mac or Linux). You can run uDIG on a Mac.
  • I stand for internet oriented consuming standard (WMS, WFS or WPS)
  • G stands for GIS-ready for complex analytical capabilities.

When you start digging into uDig, it’s a nice open source GIS software option for basic mapping.

uDig’s Mapnik lets you import basemaps with the same tune as ArcGIS

Easy-to-use, the catalog, symbology and Mac OS functionality are some of the strong points.

But the limited tools and the bugs bog it down.

10 OpenJump


Formerly JUMP GIS, OpenJump GIS (JAVA Unified Mapping Platform) started as a first class conflation project.

It succeeded. But eventually grew into something much bigger.

A large community effort grew OpenJUMP into a more complete free GIS software package.

It handles large data sets well. Rendering is above-grade with a whole slew of mapping options like pie charts, plotting and choropleth maps.

OpenJUMP GIS Plugins enhance its capabilities. There are plugins for editing, raster, printing, web-processing, spatial analysis, GPS and databases.

Conflate data and do a whole lot more.

11 Diva GIS

Diva GIS Free Software

Biologists using GIS unite!

Diva GIS is another free GIS software package for mapping and analyzing data.

This one specializes in mapping biological richness and diversity distribution including DNA data.

It’s possible to extract climate data for all locations on the land.

From here, there are statistical analysis and modeling techniques to work with.

Diva GIS also delivers useful, every day free GIS data for your mapping needs.

It’s worth a long look for biologists around the world.

12 FalconView

FalconView GIS Software

The initial purpose of FalconView is to be a free and open source GIS software.

Most of FalconView’s users are from the US Department of Defense and other National Geospatial Intelligence Agencies. This is because it can be used for combat flight planning.

In SkyView mode, you can fly-through even using MXD files.

Georgia Tech built this open software for displaying various types of maps and geographically referenced overlays.

It supports various types of display like elevation, satellite, LiDAR, KMZ and MrSID

13 OrbisGIS

Orbis GIS

OrbisGIS is a work-in-progress.

Its goal is to be a cross-platform open source GIS software package designed by and for research.

It provides some GIS techniques to manage and share spatial data. OrbisGIS is able to process vector and raster data models.

It can execute processes like noise maps or hydrology process without any add-ons. Orbis GIS Plug-ins are available but are very limited for the time-being.

The developers are still working on the documentation. You may want to look elsewhere until this project gets sturdy up on its feet.

Free GIS Software List

As we have shown, there’s a bucket load of free GIS software that can:

  • Perform hundreds of advanced GIS processing tasks.
  • Generate stunning cartography and mapping products.
  • Manage your company’s geospatial assets efficiently.

Now you have 20/20 vision of free GIS software available to you.




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