Which GIS software does the industry use?
The GIS software options out there seem endless. ArcGIS, QGIS, GRASS GIS, SuperGIS, SAGA GIS, JUMP GIS… The range of GIS products to choose from can get a bit “ridiculous” at times.
You map out solutions to real-life problems every day. You just need someone to map out the GIS software landscape for you.
A GIS software landscape that is constantly changing with commercial and open source to choose from.
Today, you will get a sneak peek at what GIS software packages the industry is using. Discover the GIS software market and learn all the options available for you in our list of GIS software.
1 ArcGIS (Esri)
Why do you use ArcGIS?
Esri ArcGIS is the powerhouse in GIS. It’s so influential that the term ArcGIS is sometimes (mistakenly) used interchangeably with GIS. Esri sits on top of the world as the biggest GIS software company. No questions asked.
You may have wasted hours trying to complete a basic task with other software. It may be because the tool did not exist or took several steps to get there. This is why ArcGIS is a worthy time investment. It often gets the job done faster. Esri raises the bar to the next level in the GIS industry while other GIS software options are left playing catch-up.
ArcGlobe, ArcGIS Pro, ArcMap (Basic, Editor and ArcInfo), 3D Analyst, Spatial Analyst, Geostatistics, Network Analyst, etc. The functionality is there. But it comes at a price.
You hear it often from disgruntled GIS users from around the world: ArcGIS sucks. But our analytics shows the exact opposite. Esri leads the GIS software industry in user community discussion, employer software usage and academic research – by a substantial margin.
- Do you want job security?
- Do you want to publish a research paper?
- Do you want to connect with GIS professionals?
All answers point to one thing. Learn ArcGIS.
As Jack Dangermond says, ‘applying geography to everything will change our world’. What is the secret to Esri’s success? Cartographical output, functionality, large user community, stability, interoperability, scalability, modeling, web mapping, maintenance, data driven pages, high cost.
READ MORE: Esri ArcGIS Software Review and Guide
2 QGIS (Quantum GIS)
Why do you use QGIS?
The accelerating use in QGIS represents the most significant open source technology adoption in GIS today. With QGIS (formerly Quantum GIS), you create, edit, visualize, analyze and publish geospatial information without a cost. FOSS stands for Free and Open Source Software. FOSS is what QGIS is all about. It’s free GIS software developed by a community of dedicated volunteers.
400. This is the number of plugins QGIS has to offer. If you really wanted to, you could test a new plugin every day of the year. Integrate your CAD data, generate heat maps and add OpenStreetMap and Bing layers in a flash. QGIS plugins give you the power to process GIS data like the Incredible Hulk. If you like the AppStore, the QGIS plugin repo is your equivalent.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using QGIS? Large user base, 64-bit background geoprocessing, plugins, quality cartography, widely believed as best open source option, stunningly beautiful options for labeling objects, free GIS software
Want to know how different QGIS and ArcGIS are? We compare the top 2 GIS software 27 Differences Between ArcGIS and QGIS – The Most Epic GIS Software Battle in GIS History. For a basic guide to QGIS, you should take a look at our Open Source QGIS Guide and Review.
3 GRASS GIS
Why do you use GRASS GIS?
GRASS GIS (Geographic Resource Analysis Support System) was developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and is a free alternative to commercial GIS software. It is remarkable how much the program has advanced over the years. Its use in academic publications is stunning. It’s popular in academic circles because open source code can be inspected and tailored to their needs.
350. GRASS GIS offers this many modules for GIS analysis. This includes data management, image processing, graphics production, spatial modelling and visualization. It’s no wonder why NOAA, NASA and USGS use GRASS GIS because of this open functionality. And don’t forget that GRASS GIS can be unleashed through QGIS.
GRASS GIS brings advanced geospatial concepts to the world.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of GRASS GIS? Steep learning, good for LiDAR data, clunky UI, defining projects on start-up, extensive help documentation, batch processing, network analysis, interoperability.
4 MapInfo (Pitney Bowes)
Why do you use MapInfo?
At its core, MapInfo Professional allows you to create, manage and visualize GIS data. It does what all good GIS software can do. MapInfo connects geography with data but with a smaller price tag. MapInfo by Pitney Bowes’ motto is “locational intelligence”. Detailed mapping, data analysis, pattern & trend identification – these are reasons why businesses are deploying MapInfo’s “location intelligence”.
The MapInfo GIS Suite lets you create, access and manage geospatial assets, visualize business intelligence and customer data, and share high-quality interactive maps – quickly and easily.
MapInfo (alongside Intergraph) have been the only competitors to ESRI in the commercial GIS market. Usability is key to MapInfo’s GIS philosophy because usability means productivity. Beginner to advanced level users can do more with added functionality.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with MapInfo: Ease of use, 64-bit processing, better table management, querying, side-by-side mapping, geological mapping, lower cartographical output, poor format support, less expensive, clone tool, MapBasic
5 Global Mapper (Blue Marble)
Why do you use Global Mapper?
Global Mapper was originally developed by USGS to display topographic maps (.DRG) and digital elevation models (.DEM). This GIS software has evolved into a cost-effective commercial product. Like most GIS software options, it allows users to view, edit, merge and export hundreds of supported file formats.
Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users.
As far GIS software reviews go, Global Mapper is known to be a “Swiss army knife” in GIS analysis. It’s straight forward but also has an incredible amount of flexibility. Global Mapper hasn’t strayed too far away from its original purpose of working with elevation data. Its primary applications include area calculations, viewshed analysis, watershed delineation, contour lines, 3D viewing, rectification tool, GPS support, GIS mapping, digitization, etc.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with Global Mapper: Working with elevation, LiDAR data, cost-effective, reads large number of formats, poor symbolization and print layout, geodatabase support
READ MORE: Global Mapper by Blue Marble
6 GeoMedia (Intergraph/Hexagon Geospatial)
Why do you use GeoMedia?
With a 40 year history, Intergraph (now Hexagon Geospatial) has evolved into a prime GIS software solution for security, government, infrastructure and more. Intergraph is solution-driven and provides real-world GIS applications. How can GeoMedia deliver usable information? This is the core philosophy of Hexagon Geospatial.
GeoMedia, a comprehensive and dynamic GIS, extracts compelling intelligence from geospatial data and integrates it to present actionable information.
Intergraph GeoMedia is a vector and raster-based GIS software product. It’s a mature GIS software program for data collection, analysis or management that delivers actionable intelligence. Actionable intelligence in transportation, utilities, communications and emergency management.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with GeoMedia: Data maintenance, multiple layouts, fast querying and analysis, on-the-fly projections, web-based and all-purpose mapping, high government use, surfaces and terrain models
7 Manifold System (Manifold)
Why do you use Manifold?
Manifold System is one of those mapping software packages that you can pick up quickly. It consists of a desktop application, an object library for programmers and an Internet Map Server. Manifold has more or less the full capabilities of higher-priced GIS software package but without the price tag. An intuitive interface, programmability and running in 64-bit are some of its advantages. What makes Manifold System even better is the small price you pay for a good set of GIS processing and data management tools.
Manifold GIS is a combination of mapping, CAD, DBMS and image processing. The hallmark of GIS is the power of using a visual interface to view, grab, analyze, manipulate and transform data that would not be comprehensible in classic row and column DBMS text presentations.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with Manifold: Stable, intuitive GUI, wide range of functions, programmability, natively 64-bit, low price, minimal cartographical tools available
8 SAGA GIS
Why do you use SAGA GIS?
Its name says it all. SAGA GIS stands for “System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses”. It’s no secret that SAGA GIS specializes in higher-level physical geography applications. Its developers have put an incredible amount of time in building a robust free GIS software package. It’s transformed itself into one of the primary open source GIS software packages in the world.
SAGA gives geoscientists an effective but easy learnable platform for the implementation of geoscientific methods.
Standard modules on SAGA GIS are for raster visualization and terrain data. Over 300 modules exist ranging from manipulating raster and vector data to storing, managing and creating spatial data. Multiple windows (histograms, attribute data, map view, print layout, scatter plots and properties) can be set up to give you a complete picture. You just need the screen real estate. SAGA’s API makes it easy to implement your own modules. Although the command line isn’t user-friendly, it can be used with batching and routine processes.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with SAGA GIS: Terrain data, physical geography, open source, raster and vector data, command line interpreter, poor cartography, line and point symbology.
9 Smallworld (General Electric)
Why do you use GE’s Smallworld?
If you’re working in telecommunications or utilities, take a look at GE Smallworld. When SmallWorld was acquired by General Electric, it became the GIS software of choice by utility companies. Its main product is SmallWorld Core which specializes in managing network infrastructures.
This revolutionary, object-oriented, database-driven product provides a powerful, consistent architecture at the heart of many applications, such as those used for planning electric, gas and water distribution systems, designing telecommunications networks and evaluating strategic market opportunities.
But SmallWorld is not your typical do-it-all GIS software. Key advantages are its open data accessibility and scalable architecture. GE Smallworld enables data access and querying, thematic mapping and visualization. It offers spatial analysis tools like buffering, proximity measurements and network analysis. SmallWorld’s version managed database (VMDS) sets it aside from competition because of its ability for versioning and restoring backups.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with Smallworld: Network infrastructure, Magik code, spatial tools, specialized software, versioning
Why do you use ILWIS?
If you like to visit the past, the ILWIS (Integrated Land and Water Information System) website is like travelling back in time. It also means that ILWIS has been around for a while. ILWIS has existed in the GIS software landscape for as long as GRASS GIS.
It started development in the Netherlands and later became free GIS software. It’s similar in many respects to GRASS- vector, raster processing with practical tools. Advanced techniques are erosion modeling and raster image processing may put ILWIS in your peripheral vision.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using ILWIS: Image processing, digitization, visualization of stereo image pairs, WMS, extensive help documentation
11 IDRISI (Clark Laboratories)
Why do you use IDRISI?
Since 1987, IDRISI has delivered remote sensing and image processing as an inexpensive option for analysis.
You may have grown up using IDRISI. Universities around the world are structuring courses around IDRISI. And with good reason – the software includes exactly what you need – image classification tools, restoration, enhancement, temporal analysis and object-based image analysis.
What you may not have known is that IDRISI has vector-based functionality as well. There is a range of basic to advanced tools for spatial analysis. IDRISI includes tools for spatial statistics, distance calculation and database querying.
Geospatial software for monitoring and modeling the Earth system
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with IDRISI: Time series, object-based image processing, land change modelling, neural networks, 2D and 3D visualization, classification, mapping layout support, topology support
12 AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk Geospatial (Autodesk)
Why do you use Autodesk Geospatial?
Not many companies can claim they single-handedly took the largest market share of an industry. Well, Autodesk has done this with the CAD industry. Autodesk is also integrating itself in the geospatial market with their GIS software product “AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk Geospatial”.
These products are meant to bridge the gap between CAD and GIS. You can derive more value from your data with geospatial analysis. For example, buffers can be applied to notify affected properties within a specified distance during municipal rezoning applications. Querying can identify pipeline material in a dataset. When you link CAD and GIS, you get the best of both worlds.
AutoCAD Map 3D software provides access to GIS and mapping data to support planning, design, and data management.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk Geospatial: CAD/GIS fusion, statistics, topology analysis, thematic mapping, querying, buffer analysis, 3D surfaces, data conversion
Why do you use GeoDa?
GeoDa is a free, cross-platform software designed for dynamic visualization, exploratory spatial data analysis, and spatial statistics. It has been around for almost 15 years starting as an ArcView 3.x extension. Later, it was recoded to be independent of ArcView and is now associated with an illustrious group of GIS educators and researchers.
GeoDa is an open source software tool implementing state-of-the-art methods for geospatial analysis, geovisualization, geosimulation, and spatial process modeling.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with GeoDa: Data exploration, statistics, data display, geosimulation
Why do you use gvSIG?
The gvSIG project began in Valencia, Spain to replace commercial GIS software. gvSIG is a GIS software package that handles, captures, stores and solves complex geographic problems. It places emphasis to access all common vector and raster formats in a user-friendly interface. gvSIG offers a range of tools (query, layout, geoprocessing, networks, etc) that compares to commercial GIS software options.
Some of the new developments are gvSIG 3D, which uses NASA’s World Wind SDK for realistic 3D scenes. gvSIG Mobile helps field crews collect data with Windows Mobile devices.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using gvSIG: Simple GUI, well-documented, powerful CAD tools, gvSIG mobile application, gvSIG 3D, intuitive GIS processing, stable free GIS software.
Map all day. Geoprocess all night. All with gvSIG software.
READ MORE: gvSIG Software Review.
15 Bentley Map
Why do you use Bentley Map?
Blurry lines. We step into a world of CAD and GIS all meshed into one. Bentley Map combines the power of CAD with the strengths of a traditional GIS. It offers interoperability and 2d overlay tools for GIS analysis. Advanced map finishing tools give high quality cartographical output.
It’s powerful, extensible 2D/3D GIS and mapping software for the world’s infrastructure
In Bentley Map, you can build 2D features with attributes and domain lists. But you can also build 3D features like buildings. This is useful for visualizing how underground utilities are networked. It renders terrain models and point cloud data quickly. One of the neatest qualities of Bentley Map is the capability to perform GIS analysis in 2D and 3D. Some of the 3D analysis possible with Bentley Map includes sunlight effects on buildings, custom fly through animations or shadow studies. Like all GIS software, you can create high quality cartographical output.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with Bentley Map: CAD/GIS fusion, 2D and 3D viewing, 3D analysis, poor labeling and annotation, lack of KMZ/KML support
16 Golden Software (MapViewer, Surfer and Didger)
Why do you use Golden Software?
Golden Software has developed several packages with an emphasis on uniquely displaying map data. MapViewer is a good choice for thematic mapping and spatial analysis. On the other hand, Surfer is a flexible mapping package primarily for 3D surface and contour mapping. It easily interpolates your XYZ data into functional maps at break-neck speeds. Lastly with Didger, you can dynamically digitize any map, graph, aerial photo, site map, or printed image regardless of size. These are 3 very unique ways to display data!
Surfer is a full-function 3D visualization, contouring and surface modeling package. MapViewer is an affordable mapping and spatial analysis tool that allows you to easily produce publication-quality thematic maps.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with Golden Software: Short learning curve, user-friendly, manipulate XYZ points, thematic mapping, affordable, versatile, focus is on data visualization, unique mapping
17 uDig – User-friendly Desktop GIS
Why do you use uDig?
uDig (user-friendly Desktop GIS) was developed by Refractions Research. Refractions is the developer and maintainer of not only uDig but PostGIS – a standard open source spatial database. While uDig is a working open source desktop GIS application, it is also an open source GIS development platform. Volunteers world-wide continue to develop this open source desktop application. Focus is placed on database viewing and editing as well as a rich collection of GIS functionality.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using uDig: Databases, biodiversity and forest management, solid documentation, PostGIS
READ MORE: uDig – User-friendly Desktop Internet GIS
18 MapWindow GIS
Why do you use MapWindow GIS?
MapWindow is a ready-to-use spatial data viewer and GIS software package. It’s free and open source system that can be modified and extended using plugins. MapWindow is good for basic GIS needs – map making tools, simple editing and visualization. It’s also a promising open source solution for hydrology applications.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using uDig: Hydrology, editor, map viewer, programmer tools, low resolution image production
19 Maptitude (Caliper Corporation)
Why do you use Maptitude?
Maptitude is a GIS software package that provides the tools, maps and data you need to inspect geographic patterns in data. On top of that, you are able to create beautiful maps without much pain. Maps range from scaled-symbol thematic maps to 3D prism maps. Maptitude has a flatter learning curve than other GIS software in an affordable price range.
Maptitude focuses on solutions to geographic patterns with basic GIS processing tools. Industry solutions range from banking, business, health care, law enforcement, route planning and street mapping. You won’t be using Maptitude for any advanced problems such as least squares regression or LiDAR conversion. But it’s a bargain if you need some general purpose mapping.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Maptitude: Quick and beautiful maps, flat learning curve, map types, cartography, little support for advanced GIS processing.
READ MORE: Maptitude by Caliper Review
20 MapMaker Pro (MapMaker)
Why do you use MapMaker Pro?
When we downloaded MapMaker Pro, a cute black cat icon appeared on our desktop. We were instantly in love. We tested the software and realized instantly – MapMaker Pro’s goal is for anyone to be able to create a map with ease. You can produce maps without a GIS certificate. But it also comes with some GIS features too. There are capabilities to manipulate 3D, GPS, vector and raster data. Common GIS formats can be imported too. It’s a low-cost solution for those who need to make maps.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using MapMaker Pro: Low cost, general map production, intuitive, three-dimensional, common formats, lack of GIS processing functions
21 Whitebox Geospatial Analytical Tools (GAT)
Why do you use Whitebox GAT?
Here is the diamond in the rough. No sarcasm. I see Whitebox GAT as the most underrated software package on this list. I feel that it is inevitable to move up the rankings in the years ahead. Here’s why:
- It has out-of-this world LiDAR support. Nobody should run to ArcGIS for LiDAR conversion again. (Esri’s LAS dataset was awkward to begin with) The out-of-the-box tools in Whitebox GAT far exceeds Esri ArcGIS.
- 360 plugin tools to choose from for GIS analysis. Whitebox GAT has tools for conversion, import/export, analysis, hydrology, image processing, LiDAR, mathematical analysis, raster, statistics, stream network and terrain analysis.
- Developers can create new plugin tools and extensions using built-in Python scripting.
- It’s been translated into 11 different languages
- And it’s only been in development since 2009.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Whitebox GAT: Break-neck processing speeds, LiDAR support, maps, terrain analysis, geospatial statistics, vector overlay, image processing, similar look and feel to Esri ArcMap, best-kept secret for open source GIS software
22 XMap (Delorme)
Why do you use XMap?
XMap is a user-friendly, low-cost, all-in-one GIS software. Simplifying data collection is at the top of XMaps list of primary functionality. Users can create forms to easily collect data in the field. XMap really bridges the gap between data collection and field staff.
Other key points is that XMap Professional is a GIS data viewing application, fully integrated in Esri. XMap GIS Editor offers tools to import, create, query and edit data for small-scale GIS operations.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using XMap: Simplifies field data collection tool, editing tools, data visualization
23 JUMP GIS (OpenJUMP)
Why do you use JUMP GIS?
JUMP GIS (JAVA Unified Mapping Platform) all started as a conflation project by Vivid Solutions Inc. After its initial creation, Vivid Solutions stopped creation of JUMP GIS. However, the company eventually decided to support it because of the overwhelming support from its user community.
Eventually JUMP GIS began a larger community effort and the name was eventually chosen to be “OpenJUMP”. Although JUMP was primarily used as a conflation software package, it grew into much more. OpenJUMP offers vector editing and support for a wide range of formats.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using JUMP GIS: Conflation support, little-to-no raster functionality, lacking documentation
Why do you use FalconView?
The initial purpose of FalconView is to be a free and open source software. Georgia Tech built this open software for displaying various types of maps and geographically referenced overlays.
Something neat about FalconView is that most of its users are from the US Department of Defense and other National Geospatial Intelligence Agencies. This can be seen in the combat flight planning options available in the software. FalconView is a mapping tool and supports various types of display like elevation, satellite, LiDAR, KMZ and MrSID. SkyView mode can perform fly-throughs and even has the ability to open .MXD files.
25 SuperGIS (Supergeo Technologies Inc)
Why do you use SuperGIS?
SuperGIS Desktop offers an abundance of GIS tools to visualize, process, analyze, and manage geospatial data effectively. Some of its defining features are: being able to import various data formats and geodatabase as well as creating geoprocessing workflows.
Extensions include 3D, network, spatial, statistical, biodiversity and topology analyst. There are add-ons for GPS, server desktop client, online imagery and feature guided pages.
26 MicroImages (TNTgis)
Why do you use MicroImages TNTgis?
The MicroImages TNTgis family consists of 3 separate software packages. TNTmips provides all the tools needed to create, edit, georeference, interpret, and publish any type of geospatial data. TNTedit gives the necessary tools to display, create, georeferenced and edit map data.
While TNTview is simply a data viewer for various forms of data such as CAD, vector, LiDAR and TIN.
27 MapRite (Envitia)
Why do you use MapRite?
Envita MapRite is a market leader in conflation and data cleansing. Customers like Land Registry, Scottish Power and Network Rail are using MapRite because of its ability to maintain accurate records.
It is an automatic service for managing map change. It has also developed enhancements include superior annotation handling, importing rasters and reporting features.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using MapRite: Corrects location errors, data cleansing, conflation, data management, reporting feature, raster import
TatukGIS offers two versions of its software. The free desktop GIS Viewer is a slimmed down version with support for most raster image and GIS/CAD file formats. The paid version TatukGIS Editor features data editing, 3D mapping, rectification, and scripting/customization features. The program comes with common GIS functionality, thematic mapping, raster manipulation tools, custom map geometry, measuring tools, filtering and SQL query support, advanced labeling options and more. Fun fact: The origin of TatukGIS is based on Tatuk Lake in British Columbia, Canada.
Why do you use ORBISGIS?
OrbisGIS is 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. Plug-ins are available but are very limited for the time being.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using OrbisGIS: Lacking documentation, limited list of plugins, open source, research uses
Why do you use KOSMO?
KOSMO is a child project of JumpGIS. Instead of data conflation, KOSMO has veered in the direction of vector/raster algorithms and geo-processing tools. It also brings support to many different file formats and powerful querying. This GIS software mainly consists of Spanish users from universities and companies.
A List of GIS Software – Ranked by Public Opinion
GIS professionals often complain there isn’t a clear picture of the GIS software market. Wouldn’t it be nice to get the bigger picture?
- What GIS software is the industry using today?
- Who owns most of the GIS market share?
- What are other GIS software options?
The 30 GIS desktop software options was from the voice of employers, researchers and GIS communities.
…But how were our rankings compiled?
If you’re in the geospatial industry, your choice in GIS software is critical. We’ve mapped out the GIS software landscape for you. You have 30 options to choose from based on employers, researchers and the voice of the GIS community.
Quality is often, but not always, a cause of popularity.
Does McDonald’s really have the best hamburgers even though they sell millions every day? Marketing, branding, advertising, consumer perception contribute to what the consumer will buy.
We’ve developed a formula to rank the different GIS software products. However, this formula is not “magic” and should not dictate your choice in GIS software.
What a formula can do is give you a basic structure on the perceptions of GIS users of the world.
What the formula cannot do is teach you the point of intersection between your needs and the desired product.
Only you, as a GIS professional, can do that.