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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Commercial GIS Software: Setting the Record Straight


In recent months I've run into a number of pieces about open source GIS in magazines, on social media sites and on blogs. That's great; there should be lots written about this important part of the geospatial toolbox. So, while I'm happy to see the content, I am saddened these posts may have caused and will continue to cause some confusion about open source software.

Here are a few titles and sentences from content published on the web in 2018 that suggest that open source software is not commercial software.

  • Migrating to open source from a commercial geospatial platform is easier than you think
  • Open Source or Commercial GIS, or both?
  • Commercial GIS Software: List of Proprietary Mapping Software (N.B. There's no companion list titled Commercial GIS Software: List of Open Source Mapping Software.)
  • "QGIS is a desktop GIS, a piece of free and open source software (FOSS). It has been competing with commercial GIS software suites, like Esri’s ArcGIS, since 2011 (as QGIS 1.8) and has now reached version 3.0. "
  • "Esri’s commercial software, ArcGIS is industry standard and provides enterprise-level support and sophisticated spatial data analysis tools for both basic and more advanced applications. You also have the option of using open source software like - QGIS, which offers an array of free and versatile spatial analysis tools."
  • "Of course, our view is that both commercial systems and open-source systems can be used together to orchestrate the best available solutions for real users with real problems to be addressed."
Some Definitions

What is commercial software? Techopedia explains:
Commercial software is any software or program that is designed and developed for licensing or sale to end users or that serves a commercial purpose.
Techopeida and Wikipedia make clear that commercial software includes both proprietary and open sources software.
Commercial software can be proprietary software or free and open source software.
Techopedia suggests the source of the confusion.
Commercial software was once considered to be proprietary software, but now a number of free and open-source software applications are licensed or sold to end users.
I suspect that equating commercial and proprietary software was fading when I joined the geospatial industry in 1992. I have a solid recollection of Paul Ramsey saying at a conference in the early 2000s, "Open sources software is commercial software." I'm pleased that exact sentence remains in the OSGeo FAQ to this day.

Going Forward

We need to clean up our collective act and use the terms open source, proprietary and commercial software correctly. I'll do my part: I commit to contacting authors and editors when I see a confusing use of any of these terms in geospatial content on the Web. I contacted several individuals who penned the items above; that's what prompted me to write this post. I appreciate the community's help in setting the record straight.