GIS software heatmap

Mapping Out the GIS Software Landscape

ArcGIS, QGIS, GRASS GIS, SuperGIS, SAGA GIS, JUMP GIS…

The GIS software options out there seem endless.

Don’t worry. Because today, you get a sneak peek at the top GIS software packages the industry is adopting.

We’ve tested best to worst… And here they are:

READ MORE: 13 Free GIS Software Options: Map the World in Open Source

Ranking Criteria

We didn’t rank GIS software with just one or two factors. Instead, we used a range of criteria by testing out each GIS software package. It considers the following:

  • ANALYSIS: Vector/raster tools, temporal, geostatistics, network analysis, and scripting.
  • CARTOGRAPHY: Map types, coordinate systems, map layouts/elements, labeling/annotation, 3D capabilities, animation, map automation, and symbology.
  • EDITING: Table manipulation, creating/modifying features, geocoding, topology fixing, conflation, interoperability, metadata editing, and catalog/browser.
  • IMAGERY: Image classification, LiDAR integration, remote sensing tools, georeferencing, and photogrammetry.
  • INNOVATION: Machine learning, AI, IoT, indoor mapping, web mapping integration, and data science capabilities.
  • SUPPORT: Community/forums and documentation.

We also took into account the whole user interface, speed, and the number of errors we encountered when running the application.

1. ArcGIS Pro

4.9 stars

esri arcgis pro software

ArcGIS Pro modernizes GIS with a ribbon interface, 64-bit processing, and 3D integration. It’s a massive overhaul with a focus on quickness, ingenuity, and cartography. Even though ArcGIS Pro is a big machine with lots of moving parts, it earns the top spot.

PROS

  • Unified 3D integration
  • Crisp cartography and labeling
  • True integration with ArcGIS Online
  • Contextual smart ribbon interface
  • 64-bit processing
  • Improved and intuitive editing
  • 1500+ geoprocessing tools (35 toolboxes)

CONS

  • High license cost
  • Project files are bulky
  • MXD conversion misses all objects
  • License assignment through ArcGIS Pro
  • High learning curve

#1 GIS software for analysis, cartography, and editing

REVIEW: 17 Reasons to Map Like a Pro with Esri ArcGIS Pro

2. QGIS 3

4.8 stars

QGIS 3

Open source flows in the DNA of QGIS 3. It’s been genetically tailored to break the mold of commercial GIS with equally superior cartography, editing, and analysis tools. It’s not only a great choice because 3D is native as part of QGIS 3. But QGIS plugins still give you the power to analyze with almost endless capabilities.

PROS

  • Devoted volunteer community
  • Slick 3D integration
  • Inventive editing, analysis, and mapping tools
  • Large user base and support
  • QGIS plugins add functionality
  • 64-bit processing
  • 900+ tools in total (25 toolboxes)

CONS

  • Missing highly specialized tools
  • Stability issues for 3D and LiDAR
  • Limited web mapping capabilities
  • Lags behind in emerging technologies
  • Image classification like OBIA

#1 open source GIS software for all-around capabilities

REVIEW: The Hidden Powers of QGIS 3
COMPARISON: 35 Differences Between ArcGIS Pro and QGIS 3

3. ArcGIS Desktop

4.8 stars

ArcMap

ArcGIS Desktop is cutting edge in GIS. It raises the bar to the next level by doing what other GIS software can’t. Its success is that it’s expandable. From field apps to modeling and scripting, ArcGIS Desktop is a powerhouse for all things GIS.

PROS

  • Scalability for extra capability
  • Solid geoprocessing framework
  • Beautiful cartography symbology options
  • Full set of editing and topology tools
  • ArcGIS Online for web maps and apps

CONS

  • High cost for usage and maintenance
  • License levels bring limited tools for basic
  • Underachieves for interoperability
  • Being phased out for ArcGIS Pro
  • 32-bit application with ArcCatalog

#1 non-ribbon commercial GIS software (support until March 2026)

REVIEW: ArcGIS Review: Is ArcMap the Best GIS Software?

4. Hexagon Geomedia

4.3 stars

Geomedia Bar Charts

Hexagon GeoMedia has 40+ years of history. But lately, it’s taken a bit of a slide. Nevertheless, Geomedia is still solid as GIS software. Especially, when you pair it up with ERDAS Imagine, you get arguably the best suite in remote sensing.

PROS

  • Fast querying and analysis
  • Strong cartography with smart labeling
  • Remote sensing with ERDAS Imagine
  • All-purpose mapping with multiple layouts
  • Superior editing with smart snapping
  • Mature software with 40+ years of history

CONS

  • Confusing license tiers
  • Small user community for problem-solving
  • Cannot drag-and-drop files into GeoMedia
  • Poor interoperability with other GIS formats
  • Database connectivity can be slow

#1 GIS software with a powerful remote sensing suite of tools (from ERDAS Imagine)

REVIEW: Hexagon Geomedia Review: 9 Powerful Features

5. MapInfo Professional

4.2 stars

MapInfo Professional World

At its core, MapInfo Professional is all about locational intelligence. And just like GeoMedia, it’s been a tale of shrinking market share from its rivals. But don’t get fooled. MapInfo Professional is still a well-rounded GIS software suite with more of a business decision-making focus.

PROS

  • Ease of use and 64-bit processing
  • Querying and improved table management
  • Powerful addressing and geocoding
  • Side-by-side mapping
  • Improved visualization integration
  • Smart ribbon-based navigation

CONS

  • Interoperability and poor format support
  • High cost of a license
  • Lacks cloud-based platform
  • Low functionality for online web maps
  • Poor support for remote sensing analysis

#1 GIS software with a focus on business and location intelligence

REVIEW: MapInfo Professional by Precisely

6. FME® Feature Manipulation Engine

4.1 stars

FME Data Inspector

Feature Manipulation Engine (FME®) isn’t a full-fledged GIS package. Instead, it wrangles and slays your data like a Jedi. It’s extremely powerful and has a surprisingly active community. In fact, its yearly World Tour is a blast to attend. But just don’t use FME® for making maps.

PROS

  • Powerful with endless transformers
  • It’s a data interoperability specialist
  • Active user community
  • Thorough documentation
  • FME Server and FME Cloud
  • Ahead of the curve for emerging technologies

CONS

  • Poor traditional cartographic display in FME Data Inspector
  • License levels and cost
  • No editing and snapping tools
  • Little functionality for web maps and apps
  • Remote sensing classification and analysis

REVIEW: FME Software – Feature Manipulation Engine

7. Global Mapper

4.0 stars

blue marble global mapper software

Global Mapper is like a “Swiss army knife” in GIS analysis. It’s straightforward to get started. But at the same time, Global Mapper has an incredible amount of flexibility. For example, it has a powerful display for LiDAR and elevation, all in a 64-bit application.

PROS

  • Robust LiDAR display and processing
  • Reads a large number of formats
  • Advanced elevation manipulation tools
  • 64-bit with a user-friendly interface
  • Publish web maps through MangoMap

CONS

  • Cost-effective but not open source
  • Poor symbolization and print layouts
  • Editing tools are not robust
  • Cannot build web maps and apps
  • Lack of emerging technology

#1 GIS software for terrain and elevation functionality

REVIEW: Global Mapper Software by Blue Marble

8. QGIS 2

4.0 stars

QGIS (Quantum GIS)

QGIS 2 was one of the largest community efforts and open source progress in the history of GIS. And because it was community-driven, it became wildly innovative and inventive. Even though QGIS 2 is completely open source, it still rivals the best. But now, full support has shifted to QGIS 3.

PROS

  • QGIS GPL license offers freedom
  • Beautiful labeling options
  • Wide range of GIS analysis tools
  • Amazing data interoperability
  • Plugins extend functionality
  • Large user base and online support

CONS

  • Lack of 3D integration (only as a plugin)
  • Graphical modeler is buggy
  • Light on tools for topology errors
  • Little on metadata standards
  • LiDAR and remote sensing classification

#1 open source GIS software (currently unsupported for QGIS 3)

REVIEW: QGIS 2 Review (Quantum GIS)

9. Cadcorp

4.0 stars

Cadcorp

Cadcorp integrates both GIS with CAD into a single application. In a near flawless way, it adds rich functionality for mapping and styling. It adds several features ribbon interface, interoperability, and developer tools. But when you combine it with server and cloud tools, the lesser-known Cadcorp shines on a couple of levels.

PROS

  • Intuitive ribbon interface for Desktop GIS
  • Build Cadcorp SIS web maps
  • Host and serve data on the cloud
  • Deloy web applications through server
  • Developer tools available for customization
  • Cadcorp SIS Express is read-only and free to use

CONS

  • Lack of support community forum
  • Little remote sensing tools
  • New product without much background information
  • A CAD/GIS specialist but lacks in other areas

10. GRASS GIS

3.9 stars

GRASS GIS 3D

GRASS GIS is one of those suites that let you geoprocess until the night falls. It’s a loaded gun with sophisticated tools. It’s so powerful that you can unleash GRASS GIS in QGIS as a separate toolbox. But its clunky interface and stubborn map projection rules hold it back.

PROS

  • Top-notch geoprocessing with 350+ modules
  • LiDAR and network analysis
  • Extensive documentation and tutorials
  • Free and open source
  • Sophisticated tools for satellite imagery
  • 3D raster rendering and customization
  • Well-documented
  • Raster, vector, imagery, and temporal tools

CONS

  • Clunky user interface and odd toolbar locations
  • Defining projections on start-up
  • Steep learning curve for getting started
  • Unsuitable for cartography and mapping
  • Command-line window running in the background
  • Handles coordinate systems in separate locations

#1 open source GIS software for innovative geoprocessing tools.

REVIEW: GRASS GIS – Geographic Resources Analysis Support System

11. WhiteBox GAT

3.8 stars

WhiteBox GAT

WhiteBox GAT is the diamond in the rough. If you need terrain and hydrological analysis, then it’s a superb choice. The LiDAR support is out-of-this-world. But Whitebox GAT also has 360+ plugin tools. It deserves a higher ranking. But it’s just not strong in mapping, editing, and data management.

PROS

  • Top-notch hydrology, LiDAR, and terrain tools
  • 450+ plugins and geospatial tools
  • Fast speeds with parallel processing
  • WhiteBox scripter for Python
  • Extendable through ArcGIS, QGIS, and WhiteBox Tools

CONS

  • Limited cartography, labeling, and symbolization
  • Web mapping services and base map integration
  • No classical editing toolbar
  • Absence of catalog for data management
  • Inability to write and edit metadata

#1 open source GIS software for LiDAR, terrain, and hydrography analysis.

REVIEW: WhiteBox GAT – Geospatial Analysis Toolbox

12. gvSIG

3.7 stars

gvSIG 3d Sphere

If you eat, sleep and breathe GIS, gvSIG is free and open source GIS software. Its features may surprise you. For example, it has a field app, 3D capabilities and a desktop application. But it’s light on documentation. Especially, anything in English.

PROS

  • Simple GUI and well-documented
  • Mobile application for the field
  • Powerful CAD tools
  • Intuitive interface and stable
  • Open source software with support
  • Exploring data with NavTable
  • Exciting developments like gvNIX and IDE

CONS

  • Smaller community support
  • Archaic cartography and symbology
  • Dated 3D rendering with NASA World Wind
  • Little on metadata standards
  • Not much support for LiDAR data
  • No multi-platform mobile data collection
  • Adding data without geometry icons

#1 open source GIS software for integration of field apps, web mapping, and desktop capabilities.

REVIEW: gvSIG Software Review: Desktop, 3D and Mobile GIS

13. GE Smallworld

3.6 stars

GE SmallWorld

If you’re in utilities, then GE Smallworld is for you. When GE acquired SmallWorld, it rose as the top GIS software for utility companies. The key is its robust data model which allows various geometry properties per object.

PROS

  • Specialized software for utility/networks
  • Versioning allows backups and archiving
  • Objects as multiple types of geometry
  • Successful track record in utilities
  • Asset management design and lifecycle
  • Comprehensive in-program help files

CONS

  • Very high cost of license and maintenance
  • Value-added for utility management
  • Not too customizable
  • Unfriendly user-interface
  • Difficult file system access for exporting

#1 GIS software for network asset management

REVIEW: Smallworld by General Electric (GE)

14. Manifold GIS

3.5 stars

Manifold Viewer

Manifold System is something you can just pick up and get accustomed to quickly. Its highlights are its intuitive interface, programmability, and 64-bit processing. Manifold GIS has a solid set of tools. But without the high price tag.

PROS

  • Processes and displays at the speed of light
  • CPU and GPU parallel processing
  • Stable and intuitive user interface
  • Natively 64-bit processing
  • Good product documentation and support

CONS

  • Minimal cartographical tools for map design
  • Limited specialty tools
  • Lack of advanced web mapping
  • Light activity in the user community
  • Low price tag but still has a cost
  • Selecting file type when adding a data source

#1 GIS software for speed

REVIEW: Manifold GIS Systems: Software Review

15. Maptitude

3.5 stars

Maptitude

Maptitude stands out as one of the more affordable one-stop shop GIS platforms on the market. While it’s true that Maptitude is a low-cost, professional GIS, you might want to look elsewhere for higher-level analysis.

PROS

  • Routing analysis to optimize delivery routes
  • Good range of thematic mapping options
  • Easy to learn and low learning curve
  • TransModeler and TransCAD for transportation
  • Good product documentation and support

CONS

  • Lack of higher-level analysis
  • Maptitude for the Web is rudimentary
  • Range of geoprocessing (raster and vector)
  • Lack of remote sensing, photogrammetry, and LiDAR tools

#1 commercial GIS software for cost and business intelligence

REVIEW: Maptitude From Caliper – GIS Software Review

16. TatukGIS

3.5 stars

TatukGIS

TatukGIS is straightforward and well-rounded. Its leading features include its state-of-the-art editing, format support, and scripting environment. Fun fact: The origin of TatukGIS is based on Tatuk Lake in British Columbia, Canada.

PROS

  • Strong data editing tools
  • Rich API for customizations
  • High-quality map creation
  • Straightforward and well-rounded
  • Mobile web map development tools
  • Free TatukGIS Viewer and Coordinate Calculator

CONS

  • Interface is outdated
  • Affordable but still has a cost
  • Light community support and involvement
  • Not as rich in tools as other commercial GIS software
  • Lack of emerging technology tools

#1 commercial and cross-platform GIS on Windows, Linux, and macOS servers

17. AutoCAD Map 3D

3.4 stars

AutoCAD Map

If you started using Autodesk products, then AutoCAD Map 3D has the same look to it so it makes you feel comfortable. Basically, AutoCAD Map bridges the gap between CAD and GIS. You get map layouts, data management, and editing capabilities. By linking CAD and GIS, you get the best of both worlds.

PROS

  • Solid for editing, COGO, and topology
  • Surface and LiDAR point cloud tools
  • Ribbon interface with logical organization
  • Fusion between CAD/GIS
  • Generate thematic maps and mapbooks
  • Good for those familiar with Autodesk

CONS

  • License cost and maintenance
  • Limited specialized analysis tools
  • Sparse for cartography and map types
  • The look and feel of map layouts are clunky
  • High learning curve for those unfamiliar with Autodesk

#1 commercial GIS software that integrates Autodesk capabilities

REVIEW: AutoCAD Map 3D by Autodesk: GIS and CAD Fusion

18. Golden Software Surfer

3.4 stars

Golden Software MapViewer

Surfer is part of the Golden Software suite. Alongside Strater, Voxler, and Grapher, you get a nice mix of 3D, analysis, and editing capabilities. But its key feature is how you can produce professional quality thematic maps.

PROS

  • Focus is on data visualization
  • Versatile in thematic map production
  • User-friendly interface
  • Data manipulation for XYZ points
  • Census-based street data geocoding
  • Short learning curve

CONS

  • License cost but more affordable
  • Specialized in specific domains
  • Narrow range of analysis tools
  • Lacks web map publishing capabilities
  • Sparse tools for advanced editing

#1 commercial GIS software for 3D geotechnical analysis and mapping

REVIEW: Surfer by Golden Software

19. ILWIS

3.4 stars

ilwis software

The 80s are making a comeback. As part of it, ILWIS is still embracing the era. But if you need remote sensing tools, it’s a decent place to look. There are also 3D visualizations and stereo imaging. Despite its desperate need for a makeover, ILWIS is versatile in specific niches.

PROS

  • Monitoring and modeling the Earth system
  • Object-based image classification
  • Land change modeling
  • 2D and 3D visualization with time series
  • Free and Open Source Software
  • Image classification and remote sensing tools

CONS

  • Light on documentation and tutorial information
  • Lacks advanced mapping features and layout support
  • Small community support and discussion forum
  • Sparse tools for advanced editing

#1 open source GIS software for diverse image processing tools

REVIEW: ILWIS – Integrated Land and Water Information Management

20. SAGA GIS

3.4 stars

SAGA GIS

The name of the game for SAGA GIS is geoscience. If you go down this rabbit hole, you may get lost. Its documentation lacks so much that you don’t even know the input and output. But it has some of the rarest tools you’ll ever find in GIS software.

PROS

  • Unique toolsets for geoscience
  • Powerful for terrain and raster data
  • Command-line interpreter
  • 3D rendering and anaglyph tools
  • Geostatistics tools like kriging
  • GPL license offers freedom
  • Decent interoperability
  • User-friendly and robustness

CONS

  • Missing core documentation for many geoscience tools
  • Strange noise after running tool
  • Lack of cartography features and templates
  • Limited data editing and manipulation
  • No automatic topology error fixing
  • Lack of online web map publishing

#1 open source GIS software for scientific and geotechnical analysis

REVIEW: SAGA GIS (System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses)

21. GeoDa

3.4 stars

GeoDa Software

GeoDa is a specialist in statistical tools and analysis. As you work in this open source GIS software, you explore spatial statistics. Through state-of-the-art geo-visualizations and geo-simulations, it’s the ultimate tool for spatial modeling.

PROS

  • Modern interface and design
  • Specialized in statistics
  • Data exploration for understanding statistics
  • Geosimulation with data display
  • Free and open source
  • State-of-the-art plots and charts

CONS

  • Missing traditional geoprocessing tools
  • Not a full-fledged GIS software package
  • Little for advanced feature editing and snapping
  • Lacks a variety of GIS-related tools

#1 statistical open source GIS software for spatial modeling and geovisualizations

REVIEW: GeoDa Software – Data Exploration at its Finest

22. Bentley Map

3.2 stars

Bentley Map

Bentley Map combines the power of CAD with the strengths of traditional GIS. For example, it offers robust inter-operability, overlay tools and high quality cartographical output. It’s not only for 2D. But you can perform GIS analysis in 3D too.

PROS

  • CAD/GIS fusion
  • 3D viewing, analysis, and support
  • Fly-throughs, sunlight and shadow studies
  • Decent interoperability

CONS

  • Limited GIS analysis tools
  • High cost for the license
  • Poor labeling and annotation
  • Lack of KMZ/KML support

#1 CAD/GIS software with a focus on 2D/3D infrastructure

REVIEW: Bentley Map by Bentley Systems

23. IDRISI TerrSet

3.1 stars

IDRISI

IDRISI by Clark Labs is mostly for raster analysis and image processing. For example, it’s equipped with 300+ analysis tools. But IDRISI also focuses on Earth modeling too. For example, it has modules for land change, biodiversity modeling and climate change.

PROS

  • Monitoring and modeling the Earth system
  • OBIA classification and land change modeling
  • 2D and 3D visualization with time series
  • 300+ analytical tools with a focus on raster-based tools

CONS

  • Low documentation and support for help topics
  • Inactive community and forum
  • Poor cartography options and map layout support
  • Limited scope and functionality

#1 GIS software for Earth modeling and land change

REVIEW: IDRISI TerrSet By Clark Laboratories

24. TNT GIS

2.6 stars

MicroImages

TNTview, TNTedit, TNTmips, and TNTscript are part of the MicroImages GIS software family. At the basic level, TNTview is an open viewer. As you move up the license levels, each one adds extra capabilities. Overall, it’s a decent option for all-around mapping, analysis, and editing.

PROS

  • Terrain analysis and surface modeling
  • Support for vector, geodatabase, CAD, LIDAR, and TIN
  • Automated workflows and customization
  • Image processing tools

CONS

  • Affordable but has an associated cost
  • Dated user interface
  • Little for updates and versions
  • Lacks documentation and user support community

#1 GIS software for basic GIS editing, mapping, and analysis

25 MapWindow

2.6 stars

MapWindow GIS

MapWindow is an open source project. While it does about 90% of what GIS users need, it specializes in hydrology. It still struggles with some of the basics. But it’s a decent volunteer effort.

PROS

  • Specializes in hydrology analysis
  • Free and open source
  • API and MW5 documentation
  • Extensible plugin architecture

CONS

  • Lack of community and users
  • Not as fully supported
  • Lacks in other areas of GIS and remote sensing

#1 open source GIS software for hydrology analysis with HydroDesktop

26. uDig

2.5 stars

UDig GIS Software

Volunteers worldwide work on this open source desktop application. Most of the focus for uDig is on database viewing and editing. Even today, updates continue to roll in. But the interface really just needs a fresh coat of paint.

PROS

  • Solid documentation
  • Free and open source software
  • Specializes in biodiversity and forest management

CONS

  • Infrequent releases
  • Limited functionality for cartography and symbolization
  • Small and inactive user community

#1 open source GIS software for specific biodiversity and forest management tools

REVIEW: uDig GIS Software Review

27. Jump GIS

2.4 stars

OpenJUMP GIS

You’ve got two tickets to the OpenJump show. Would you go? In short, Jump GIS is good at doing the basics. It started as a tool for data conflation. Then, it grew into a modest size open source project. Despite its light functionality, developers still support the project.

PROS

  • WMS and database connectivity
  • Wiki documentation
  • GPS support and compatibility
  • Plugins like Sextante

CONS

  • Dated user interface
  • Little-to-no raster functionality
  • Sparse updates on its development
  • Limited cartography options
  • 3D visualization and support
  • A small number of plugins

#1 open source GIS software for assisting with conflation

REVIEW: OpenJUMP GIS Software Review

28. FalconView

2.1 stars

FalconView GIS Software

FalconView is a flight simulator so it’s unfair to compare in this list of GIS software. If you want to do fly-throughs, Georgia Tech built it for this purpose. Otherwise, you can render features in 3D like LiDAR and elevation.

PROS

  • Flight simulator for fly-throughs
  • Supports KMZ, MrSID, and LiDAR
  • Interoperability and WMS capabilities
  • Aviation and nautical charts support

CONS

  • Primarily for flight missions
  • Lacks sophisticated spatial analysis
  • Limited mapping and cartography
  • Poor data editing and management

#1 open source GIS software for flight simulation and spatial data integration

REVIEW: FalconView by Georgia Tech

29. OrbisGIS

1.9 stars

orbis gis

OrbisGIS is still a work-in-progress. It’s now released as a cross-platform open source GIS software package. Specifically, OrbisGIS is designed by and for research.

PROS

  • Used mainly for research
  • 100% for Linux, Windows and Mac OS
  • OGC compliant

CONS

  • Light on cartographic and analysis tools
  • No open forum and community for discussion

#1 open source GIS software as a newcomer

30 Diva GIS

1.5 stars

diva gis

Diva GIS is an open source GIS software package that’s simple and lightweight. Biologists use it for mapping biological richness and diversity distribution. It’s functional. But there’s not a lot here for mapping and functionality.

PROS

  • Specialty software for biology
  • Data availability
  • Lightweight and open source

CONS

  • Dated user interface
  • Not a lot available for mapping and functionality
  • No Diva GIS community

#1 open source GIS software for biology and data packaging

Mapping out the GIS software landscape

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. What did you pick?

We’d love to hear from you so please leave us a comment below.

Changelog

2022/04/28 – Cadcorp jumped from #12 to #9. QGIS 2 fell from #4 to #8. gvSIG fell from #9 to #12.

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42 Comments

  1. I have had several decades using many of these GIS software programs, and I still use many of them occasionally. Currently, my favorite way to process data is to use several of the spatial SQL tools such as Oracle Spatial, PostGreSQL/PostGIS and SpatiaLite. My favorite is Spatialite-GUI but it is not really great for map making. For that, I use the wonderful Leaflet JavaScript Web Mapping Library. For tying everything together I use Python. And, all of this is free software, so there are no licenses or fees to consider. The only cost is for a web hosting site, of which I am very happy with what A2 Hosting provides.

  2. First of all ditch ArcGIS, it is NOT relevant any more as there are far better options out there. Even companies who have been inside the “Arcgis doctrine” for far too long are waking up.
    If you need to test some of this software before making a final decision I advise to get your hands on several with extreme discount at cdrbsoftwares(dot)com so you do not make a mistake and end up with the wrong GIS app. I have done the same land a new job but needed to learn some new GIS apps and bought them with the above mentioned shop to learn and get proficient with several.

  3. I’m curious as to why nobody has mentioned Avenza MAPublisher for vector images. It is highly rated by people who actually use it, and is more powerful than other software mentioned here. Avenza also has a raster-based plug-in for Photoshop called Geographic Imager.

  4. ArcGIS and ArcPro as tops? You have got to be kidding. Old plodding software with way too many bugs (or should I say malfunctioning “features” and an overly complex underlying structure) to be at the top of any GIS list. I agree with the commenter who said that your writeup “reads a bit like copy and paste from ESRIs marketing documents”. As an ESRI user since this became a commercial software back in the mid-1980s, it is definitely not even in the top 10 in terms of usability and never has been. I only use it (and teach it) because my students can’t get GIS jobs if they are not proficient in ArcMap or ArcPro. That is a sad commentary about how one firm figured out how to control the GIS market back in the ’80s and ’90s. The industry would have been better off with lots of alternatives back then. Unfortunately, this probably cost all of us a decade of GIS progress. When I need to do “real” GIS analysis I use QGIS.

  5. Great question. We look at a range of factors including:

    User interface, coordinate systems, data management, editing, vector analysis, remote sensing, speed, table manipulation, statistics, raster analysis, network analysis, 3D capabilities, scripting, labeling/annotation, map automation, animation, map types, topology, interoperability, geocoding, symbology, LiDAR, map layouts/elements, metadata, temporal analysis, server, cost, extras (machine learning, AI, IoT, etc), community/forums and documentation.

  6. Very comprehensive article! I would love if you can take a look at geonotebook.com, we are a small new team of previous mappers trying to make the difference. We are not as fancy as many of these products, but I think it may interest you and other readers.

  7. Curious why you excluded Hexagon’s G/Technology. My opinion is G/Technology has the best connectivity model and is a very powerful GIS for utilities. Further, G/Technology integrates well with other applications such as Work Management Systems.

  8. Why is lower license cost a disadvantage for MapInfo? I’d think it’d be an advantage. MapInfo’s latest version (17) is pretty slick – in beta now. Quite possibly the easiest to use yet.

  9. In regard to Smallworld for utilities and telco networks, I would say that Telconet Maestro by mapbis.com is a very good contender in the is space.

  10. 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!

  11. 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 (https://plugins.qgis.org/plugins/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 (https://gisgeography.com/free-satellite-imagery-data-list/). 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.

  12. 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

  13. Interesting Article but at least one notable omission – FME by Safe Software (Safe.com) 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

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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 – https://gisgeography.com/qgis-arcgis-differences/

    I’ve also reviewed some of the major open source software here –
    https://gisgeography.com/free-gis-software/

    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.

  18. 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 (https://cran.r-project.org/web/views/Spatial.html) on your list. Add R and you would definitely have to recalculate your “research” scores!!!

  19. 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!

  20. 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, …).

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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!

  24. Maptitude is my go to software. Easy to use and fully functional in a variety of GIS and cartographic applications.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

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