10 Differences Between Commercial And Open Source GIS Software

10 Differences Between Commercial And Open Source GIS Software
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10 Differences Between Commercial And Open Source GIS Software

A debate that always rears its head in the world of software developers and software users is the constant comparison and contrasting of commercial and open source software. Like all things in life, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. It is up to the user to determine what suits him/her. However, it is not such an easy decision to make.

Narrowing it down, experts and individuals who use GIS software are also in this dilemma. Most open source and commercial software share so much in common that it is difficult to really differentiate them.  The only crystal clear difference is the licensing fee. Beyond that, there are other points to keep in mind about commercial and open source software. This write-up intends to shed light on those points. However, if you are a newbie in the world of software development, and these terms seems alien to you, here is a quick overview.

Open-source software is computer software with its source code made available by the developer to everybody to study, change, modify, enhance and distribute. On the other hand, commercial software has source code that only the person, team, or organization that created it can edit, inspect, change and enhance it. They maintain exclusive right over it. It is also called proprietary or closed source software. A notable example is Microsoft word.

With this in mind, let us compare commercial and open source GIS software from various standpoints:



The marketing strategies of open source and commercial software differ significantly. The developers of commercial software use strategies such as sales team, paid advert, marketing teams and search engines (SEO). In other words, their marketing strategies is an individual effort and team effort which are mostly paid for. On the other hand, developers of open source software rely mostly on individual efforts like viral marketing (word of mouth) and search engine (SEO).  It is rarely paid for and most individuals participate on pro bono basis. We conclude that commercial GIS software has more sophisticated marketing strategies.

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  1. There is capitalism and there is turbo-capitalism.

    I like to introduce the differentiation between commercial software and turbo-commercial software.

    Many users don’t mind to pay some fee to buy software, which has advantages, also disadvantages, as we know.

    But to be dependent by a software company and to pay for any other extra service, and to be enforced in work only in this ‘family’ is counter-productive. Guess, who is working as turbo-commercial software vendure in the world of GIS?

  2. I think that this constant need to compare and contrast ‘open source’ with ‘closed source’ (COTS, Proprietary, Bespoke, whatever term takes your fancy) is simply a fanciful endeavour to confuse and deflect against what is really happening in the world of geospatial today. I made an attempt in this post https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/opening-up-paul-synnott to put this into some context. Yes, its written from an Esri perspective (for obvious reasons) but I would hope that others (COTS and Open Source) would have a similar perspective to how users are now engaging with geospatial technologies, irrespective as to the nature of the software being ‘open’ or ‘closed’ source; because guess what, it no longer matters to those who really count i.e. our respective customers.

  3. Well said Ted Stephenson,
    this article is really, how should I put it, junk. I have worked in GIS for over 20 year using both commercial and open source software. The gains the open source GIS software has made over the commercial stuff is phenomenal. A key difference between commercial and open source, is commercial is made purely to make profit for the company where as opensource is created and maintained by intelligent passionate people who what to make the best software in their own time. EG. MapInfo was the premiere windows GIS software in the 90s. Pitynes Bowes bought it and let it go to crap by no advancing it with new technology. QGIS on the other hand just gets better and better. My current job has access to commercial GIS desktop, but I keep using QGIS cause its fast and better.

    Support, what a load of garbage. OpenSource support smashes commercial support. That’s cause open source is supported by the people who create it, so they know what they are talking about, and WANT to fix the issue. Commercial usually just some dude who has that job to do. EG. I had an issue with ArcGIS Desktop, they said it would be fixed some time in the next 6 months. QGIS my issue was fixed in 2 weeks and they replied immediately so I know that status of problem. When it was fixed I could down load the nightly build and be in my way. ESRI had to wait for a patch which was months away.

    Oh yeah don’t forget the commercial software also uses open source libraries like GDAL, and because GDAL is MIT then they can sell it with their closed software. This means open source improves their functionality. But do you think the commercial company gives donations or contributes to the open source project? Some do but my guess most don’t, and claim it as their own.

    Anyway read another article about this topic.

  4. This is one of the worst comparisons of Open Source and Commercial GIS I have ever read. There are so many things missing from this I don’t know where to start. As a strong COTS GIS and OS GIS user, this is a really, really bad review.

    People are done with the old “COTS isn’t flexible”, “with OS you can code yourself” approach. It doesn’t happen in the real world. 99% couldn’t code themselves out of a wet bag.

    People are done with the old “COTS is for rich companies and OS is completely free”. All COTS GIS companies have personal use licenses and affordable packages. All OS licenses are way more expensive when factoring in support, lack of analysis capabilities, etc.

    This was written from the standpoint of a one man consulting company bittter that they don’t have enough clients to afford licenses.

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