30 GIS Software Applications [2020 Rankings]

GIS software heatmap

What is GIS Software?

GIS software is a computer-based tool for examining geographic patterns, trends and relationships. They allow organizations to store, analyze and visualize data for geographic locations anywhere on Earth. By connecting geography with data, you understand data through a geographic context.

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.

From best to worst, here they are:

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

1 ArcGIS Pro

esri arcgis pro softwareArcGIS 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 top spot.

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

2 ArcGIS Desktop

ArcMapArcGIS 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 is a powerhouse for all things GIS.

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

3 QGIS 3

ayers rock uluru qgis 3 3d windowOpen source flows in the DNA of QGIS 3. It’s been genetically tailored to break the mould of commercial GIS. Not only because it’s now in 3D. But QGIS plugins still give you the power to analyze like the Incredible Hulk.

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REVIEW: The Hidden Powers of QGIS 3

4 QGIS 2

QGIS (Quantum GIS)QGIS 2 is the largest community effort in the history of GIS. And because it’s community-driven, it’s wildly innovative and inventive. Even though QGIS 2 is completely open source, it still rivals the best.

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REVIEW: QGIS 2 Review (Quantum GIS)

5 Hexagon Geomedia

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

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REVIEW: 9 Powerful Features of GeoMedia by Hexagon Geospatial

6 MapInfo Professional

MapInfo ProfessionalAt its core, MapInfo Professional is all about locational intelligence. And just like GeoMedia, it’s been a tale of shrinking market share. But don’t get fooled. MapInfo is still gifted as an well-rounded GIS software suite.

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REVIEW: MapInfo Professional by Precisely

7 FME® Feature Manipulation Engine

FME Data InspectorFeature 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.

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REVIEW: FME Software – Feature Manipulation Engine

8 Global Mapper

blue marble global mapper softwareGlobal Mapper is like a “Swiss army knife” in GIS analysis. It’s straight-forward to get started. But at the same time, it has an incredible amount of flexibility. For example, it has powerful display for LiDAR and elevation.

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REVIEW: Global Mapper Software by Blue Marble

9 gvSIG

gvSIG 3d SphereIf 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.

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

10 GRASS GIS

GRASS GIS 3DGRASS 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.

REVIEW: GRASS GIS – Geographic Resources Analysis Support System

11 WhiteBox GAT

WhiteBox GATWhiteBox 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 it also has 360+ plugin tools. It deserves a higher ranking. But it’s just not strong in mapping, editing and data management.

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REVIEW: WhiteBox GAT – Geospatial Analysis Toolbox

12 Cadcorp

Cadcorp
Cadcorp meshes GIS with CAD. In a near flawless way, it adds rich functionality for mapping and styling. In a ribbon interface, inter-operability and web mapping both shine in Cadcorp.

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13 GE Smallworld

GE SmallWorldIf 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.

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REVIEW: Smallworld by General Electric (GE)

14 Manifold GIS

Manifold ViewerManifold 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.

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REVIEW: Manifold GIS Systems: Software Review

15 TatukGIS

TatukGISTatukGIS 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.

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16 Maptitude

MaptitudeMaptitude 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.

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REVIEW: Maptitude From Caliper – GIS Software Review

17 AutoCAD Map 3D

AutoCAD MapIf you started using Autodesk, AutoCAD Map 3D has the same look and feel to it. 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.

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

18 Golden Software MapViewer

Golden Software MapViewerMapViewer is part of the Golden Software suite. Alongside Surfer and Didger, you get a nice mix of 3D, analysis and editing capabilities. But it’s key feature is how you can produce professional quality thematic maps.

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REVIEW: MapViewer by Golden Software

19 ILWIS

ilwis softwareThe 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’s also 3D visualizations and stereo imaging. Despite its desperate need for makeover, ILWIS is versatile in specific niches.

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REVIEW: ILWIS – Integrated Land and Water Information Management

20 SAGA GIS

SAGA GISThe name of the game for SAGA GIS is geoscience. If you go down this rabbit hole, you may get lost. Documentation lacks do 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.

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REVIEW: SAGA GIS (System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses)

21 GeoDa

GeoDa Software GeoDa is a specialist in statistical tools. 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.

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REVIEW: GeoDa Software – Data Exploration at its Finest

22 Bentley Map

Bentley MapBentley 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.

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REVIEW: Bentley Map by Bentley Systems

23 IDRISI TerrSet

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

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REVIEW: IDRISI TerrSet By Clark Laboratories

24 TNT GIS

MicroImagesTNTview, 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.

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25 MapWindow

MapWindow GISMapWindow 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.

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26 uDig

UDig GIS SoftwareVolunteers world-wide 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.

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REVIEW: uDig GIS Software Review

27 Jump GIS

OpenJUMP GISYou’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.

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REVIEW: OpenJUMP GIS Software Review

28 FalconView

FalconView GIS SoftwareFalconView 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.

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REVIEW: FalconView by Georgia Tech

29 OrbisGIS

orbis gisOrbisGIS 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.

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30 Diva GIS

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

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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.

29 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  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. 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.

  13. 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!!!

  14. 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!

  15. 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, …).

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

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

  20. 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.

  21. 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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