Mapping Out the GIS Software Landscape

GIS software heatmap
GIS software heatmap

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2017

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.

Don’t worry.

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)

Esri ArcGIS
Esri ArcGIS

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)

QGIS (Quantum GIS)
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.



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.

READ MORE: GRASS GIS – Geographic Resources Analysis Support System.

4 MapInfo (Pitney Bowes)

MapInfo Professional
MapInfo Professional

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)

Global Mapper
Global Mapper

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)

Geomedia Professional
Geomedia Professional

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

READ MORE: GeoMedia by Hexagon Geospatial – 9 Powerful Features and More

7 Manifold System (Manifold)

Manifold System
Manifold System

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



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.

READ MORE: SAGA GIS (System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses) Review and Guide

9 Smallworld (General Electric)

GE SmallWorld
GE SmallWorld

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)

AutoCAD Map
AutoCAD Map

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

13 GeoDa

GeoDa Software
GeoDa Software

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

READ MORE: GeoDa Software – Data Exploration at its Finest

14 gvSIG


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

Bentley Map
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

MapWindow GIS
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)

MapMaker Pro
MapMaker Pro

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)

WhiteBox GAT
WhiteBox 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Developers can create new plugin tools and extensions using built-in Python scripting.
  4. It’s been translated into 11 different languages
  5. 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



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

24 FalconView

 FalconView GIS Software
FalconView GIS Software

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

28 TatukGIS


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.

29 OrbisGIS

Orbis GIS
Orbis GIS

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


Kosmo GIS
Kosmo GIS

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?

40% is based on which GIS software is required by employers in job postings
So you’ve graduated college… It’s a major milestone. Congratulations. But remember that the career you want to pursue may require knowledge in specific GIS software products. This is why we’ve relentlessly searched years of job postings data. You get a complete picture of what GIS software employers are requesting in job postings.
20% is based on which GIS software is being used in research and publications
So maybe a job isn’t your thing just yet. Graduate school it is… not a bad option. You’ll probably want to publish a research paper. What are credible sources of GIS software currently being used? We’ve done the work for you. We’ve plucked from hundreds of research publications from the last 5 years the GIS software performing the analysis.
20% is based on which GIS software is being searched for
How much are GIS professionals speaking about a specific software package? When you have a question about GIS software, Google search is often the way to go. This data has been quantified using Google Trends for each GIS software package in this list.
20% is based on which GIS software is being discussed in community forums
For those who can’t find their answer in Google Search, the next place they’ll end up is a GIS community forum. But we don’t want to skew data by only selecting Esri forums. What are “neutral” GIS discussion forums? We looked at only 2 – GIS Subreddit and GIS Stack Exchange. When you aggregate the discussion topics from these two communities, this sums up community forum voice.

What’s Next?

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.

More GIS Software Resources


  1. Missed out some fairly large suppliers. In the UK, we have suppliers such as StatMap who supply an increasingly large segment of the public sector with sophisticated intranet-based corporate GIS, as well as mobile and public-facing software. These aren’t included here – yet they’re the best that I’ve come across of their kind.

  2. That’s a HUGE jump from Esri @ 100 to QGIS @ 37 and the remainder of the lesser GIS programs.

  3. Maptitude (from Caliper Corporation) you say provides “little support for advanced geoprocessing”!!!!! Have you ever tried using it? Maptitude is based on a platform that produces TransCAD and TransModeler — the 2 most used transportation GIS software.

    TransModeler is closest to a high level 3D software which no other 3D GIS can match. Maptitude for redistricting is used by 1000s of govt and political organizations in the US. The low hanging fruit of GIS analysis can be done by most GIS but high level spatial analysis is rarely achieved within a GIS software. The exception is Caliper corporation.

    Try it : you might change your opinion… (No GIS software does spatial stats well; Bayesian spatial stats is done in extremely computationally intensive environments that use Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithms. No GIS is even close employing MCMC techniques…ArcGIS cannot handle big data but is touted as a GIS heavyweight!! There’s so much wrong with the interpretation of GIS software that it hurts your ranking algorithm.

  4. I’m so glad I came across this article and comments! I just picked up a Trimble Juno 5D with scanner and looking to use this for my agriculture operation in Ohio. I have been away from GIS for many years after my degree from Ohio State, but excited about trying to get back in GIS with Ag. If someone could give me a few options for a good software package low cost or free for windows mobile 6.5? I was hoping to find software that can bring the accuracy below a meter. Thanks for any help!

  5. If your definition of “GIS” is limited to desktop applications, you’re not reading the winds correctly. I rarely use a desktop GIS, and yet I “do GIS” all day. (When I do use one, it’s QGIS or Global Mapper.) Much more important are the tools I actually use: Postgres with PostGIS being the mainstay, complemented by a suite of Python libraries for the server (SQLAlchemy/GeoAlchemy, Shapely, Fiona, rasterio, numpy, scipy, Matplotlib, tools for writing Mapbox vector tiles, reading/writing GeoJSON, and accessinging GDAL), and JavaScript for the client (lots of small GeoJSON-related packages, Leaflet, Leaflet-draw, Mapbox GL, OpenLayers3). Desktop GIS is dying.

  6. CartoDB (now just CARTO) provides web mapping tools for display in a web browser. This list is for full-blown, desktop GIS software.

    But thanks for the input!

  7. If I waste hours getting things done with ArcGIS and getting strange generic error codes, I normally use FME. Or, having the TCO in mind, QGIS (esp. for cartographic purposes).

    And why doesn’t this article mention the database component e.g. which is crucial in each business GIS application? This is what makes ESRI even more expensive, and is free software too in the QGIS world (PostgreSQL/PostGIS). GIS these days doesn’t only consist of ‘desktop GIS’, hence this list could extended anyway (GIS server, web solutions, …).

  8. Absolutely. FME is incredibly useful for data conversion for any type of file. Best of all, it’s repeatable and workbenches can be shared easily among users.

    There’s been many people asking for GISGeography to write a ‘GIS for web’ type of article. It will be months down the road to really test and get a good grasp of all the options available… but it’s on our list of things to do.

    Thanks for the input!

  9. Hi,

    quite impressive overview. And your ranking algorithm seems quite elaborated. Yet…

    Unfortunately, your descriptions and explanations often just seem to repeat stereotypes without questioning what seems to be “public opinion”. E.g. you list ArcGIS as the “Powerhouse” and claim people save time using it instead of “other software”. I can tell you lots of stories where the opposite is the case. Several of my colleagues who are using it indeed tell me on a regularly basis that “ArcGIS sucks” (because the still prefer ArcView which they grew up with). I cannot tell (any more), cause I quit using ArcMap years ago (although my company would pay me a license without any question). I never regretted the move to Open Source solutions, and actually every time I hear my colleagues complaining about this or that in ArcMap, I am deeply and soundly relaxed!

    When it comes to quality: E.g. in Hydrological modeling GRASS outperforms ArcMap (and all its available Extensions I know of) to a degree that is really astonishing. QGIS comes with really neat functionality as a PostGIS front-end…

    Esp. the “What are the advantages and disadvantages of ” paragraphs are too opinion based for my taste and – at least for the software I know (which is mainly QGIS and GRASS) – appear a bit random. This leaves me with the impression, that you did not do too much research on them… Of course I do not expect you to, given the number of 30 software packages. But you could have mentioned it up-front!

    BTW, QGIS is not only developed by a dedicated community on a voluntary basis, but also by numerous companies with highly skilled and professional developers (same is true for other FOSS GIS software)! They just run a different business model!

    Your ArcMap description on the other hand reads a bit like copy and paste from ESRIs marketing documents…

    Another important aspect that is missing is time (e.g. in terms of user age)! A study among employees in my company revealed (simplified) that ArcMap is for the old school while the young guns are using Open Source (and at that time we never requested a specific software in open positions)! You really should have a trend barometer!

    I would also expect significantly different results if you subdivide “the industry” by sector or by country or continent (which would be quite relevant if you to give hints on job opportunities and so on).

    Finally, I could not find R ( on your list. Add R and you would definitely have to recalculate your “research” scores!!!

  10. A lot of good points. Yes, I should add R to the list.

    I definitely encourage open source usage of GIS. Here is my thorough comparison of ArcGIS vs QGIS –

    I’ve also reviewed some of the major open source software here –

    For hydrology, I also suggest Whitebox GAT. It’s really worth a look as the main developer John Lindsay specializes in geomorphometry and hydrogeomatics.

    This article will be continuously updated in the future. Also agreed that it really depends on the age, industry and country of the user.

  11. Hi,

    and thanks for your swift reply! I appreciate your work on presenting the available options which is for sure very helpful. And I understand that collecting all the information as you did already is a bunch of work! So thanks for that.

    Regarding the time aspect I like to add just one more thing: As I see it, the big thing that hit the “industry” is the “Open Data movement”. And if you think the core idea of the Open Data movement further, which is empowering people, everything points in exactly one direction: Free and Open Source Software!

    From my point of view, public authorities should require their staff, consultants and so on who do development work for them to publish their algorithms and code, just like consultants that collect data for them are requested to publish that…

    Finally, you listed interoperability as a plus for many free solutions. Given that e.g. the OSGeo tools regularly complement each other, your map graphic could reflect that by clumping the small or medium sized dots to a center of gravity. Would be nice to have a time series animation of that one 😉

    Again thanks for your valuable work.

  12. I think ArcGIS is a little bit overrated. I can get out all the analysis and data processing from Geomedia which an advanced GIS specialist needs and able to export/import data from most of the common GIS formats. It is more open than ArcGIS and cheaper. I know every rating is subjective, depends on the person’s previous experiences and the field where he/she works.

  13. TNT MIPS might be expensive but it is really good…better than most ….of course ARCGIS is good for basic map making but with TNT MIPS you can do more..especially in remote sensing

  14. Interesting Article but at least one notable omission – FME by Safe Software ( out of Vancouver (Surry), BC.

    Very powerful with desktop, server and cloud versions. supports over 300 file formats. you might want to revise this for 2017

  15. Quite nice, but would you explain how the points are set up (for example ArcGIS has 100 from all four parties)? What does that mean, is it 100% or counted votes. Thanks

  16. Hi Maja. Thanks for question. Basically, this represents a score out of 100. However, these results are probably a bit dated now and is in need of a update. I will be updating this in the next couple of weeks.

  17. Hello, Great article! Thanks for the valuable input from all the community.

    My name is Michel and I am a site engineer in the field of public works.
    As you know, digging can be cumbersome considering that you can hit at any time a pipe / part of the network.
    I already have a software which maps out the networks (water, gas, telecom etc…) but I am searching for a software which enables me map those network on actual satellite maps.
    Those networks are complex since they spread over different layers of soil placed on top of each other.
    Could you please advise me on 3-4 software GIS which would be appropriate for piping + telecom underground network mapping?

    Thanks everyone for your time

  18. Hi Michel, it sounds like you want to digitize/edit your data with satellite imagery as a reference image. There are several options for this.

    1. Using QGIS, you can simply download and install the OpenLayers plugin ( From here, you can add the latest Google or Bing satellite imagery as a layer.

    2. Alternatively, you can download satellite imagery for free ( They come in as separate bands so you’ll have to perform the composite bands tool to add them in as RGB.

    3. There are WMS services that you can pay for that give you the latest, greatest satellite imagery such as ‘Sentinel on AWS’

    The top 2 GIS software with the most users are ArcGIS and QGIS, so I’d suggest one of those.

  19. Hello and thanks for the quick reply.

    I considered ArcGIS and QGIS since as you mentioned in the article, they are truly amazing.
    My only concern resides more in their capacity to generate vectorized maps vs. raster based maps. This is because most maps I need will have pipes and curves (which will require a vectorization capacity)

    Thanks again!

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