For those of you still sitting on the fence about developing some hands on experience with the open source GIS platform QGIS, here are five very strong reasons to start now.
1. QGIS is Free
QGIS is FOSS which stands for Free and Open Source Software. Anybody with an Internet connection can visit QGIS.org for a copy of the GIS software to install on their computer. There is no cost the to user and the source code is available under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL). The only cost to you is your time.
2. QGIS is Cross Platform
Have a Mac, PC, or Linux machine? It doesn’t matter. There is a QGIS installation package available for all three operating systems. The cross platform availability of QGIS opens it up to a wider range of potential users than many of the commercial versions currently available on the market. For example, Esri’s ArcGIS Pro only has a Windows version. The popularity of QGIS can, in part, be attributed to the lack of comprehensive Mac-based GIS software applications. For Mac users who don’t want to have to run a PC only GIS software application on a virtual machine, QGIS is an excellent choice for a full-fledged GIS software.
3. The Use of Open Source GIS is Growing
While it certainly hasn’t reached the widespread level of Esri’s ArcGIS platform, QGIS is growing in its use as a viable alternative to commercial GIS. The QGIS organization publishes case studies that highlight the practical application of the GIS software on its site so users can see how this open source option is being used by various governments agencies and organizations.
QGIS is growing as a tool of choice in academia
A study published in 2022 looked at the use of QGIS in published researcher papers between 2005 and 2020 and that 931 scientific documents mentioned using the software. When graphed out by year, a significant growth in the use of QGIS for analysis in scientific research was particularly pronounced in the last three years (2018-2020).
Growth of QGIS users
How many users of QGIS are out there is hard to pinpoint but Gary Sherman, the founding developer of QGIS, performed some analysis in 2011 on worldwide QGIS users by geocoding the I.P. addresses where QGIS was downloaded. From that analysis, Sherman estimated in December of 2011 that there were at least 100,000 users globally of Quantum GIS.
The adoption by a growing number of companies of Open Source GIS in lieu of commercial GIS is frequently cited as a growth area in the GIS industry. The increased user friendliness of open source GIS software packages like QGIS, coupled with agencies and companies looking to trim costs, is leading more and more entities to make the move towards adopting the use of open source software in lieu of purchasing commercial applications.
A 2010 survey by Accenture on the adoption of open source found that:
- Two-thirds have a fully documented strategic approach for using open source in their businesses, while another 32 percent are developing a strategic plan.
- Of the organizations using open source, 88 percent will increase their investment in 2010.
A growing number of employers are asking for QGIS experience
The request for at least familiarity with open source GIS is growing as a desired skill on many GIS job listings. A survey by Eric Pimpler of GeoChalkboard last year on GIS jobs found that 14% of respondents listed open source GIS software as at least a secondary software used in their jobs. Mirroring the trend of open source skills as part of job listings in the general job market, the graph below from the job congregation site, Indeed from 2012, shows the rise in prevalence of open source skills within listings for the GIS job market since 2006. For GIS professionals wishing to remain competitive, building experience with a range of open source and proprietary GIS packages is a necessity.
4. Plenty of QGIS Support and Tutorials
If you’re worried that you’ll be left on your own to slog through figuring out QGIS, know that QGIS has a thriving user based support. There is a growing and active volunteer developer base that works on fixing bugs and extending the functionality of QGIS. Nathan W. created an interesting video visualizing the growth of QGIS based on commit history logs.
Peer support for issues about using QGIS can be answered by tagging questions with QGIS on the GIS Stack Exchange section. The QGIS site has a “How do I do that in QGIS?” with introductory tutorials covering working with raster and vector data, spatial analysis, and cartography. The Free and Open Source GIS Ramblings blog run by Anita Graser is an excellent source for QGIS tips and tutorials. The Getting Started with QGIS article has further pointers to resources for learning QGIS.
5. QGIS is flexible
QGIS can read a wide range of GIS vector and raster file formats including Esri shape files, KML, KMZ, GeoPackage, MapInfo, SDTS and GML. Users can also load data from ArcGIS Online fairly easily into QGIS.
The functionality of QGIS can also be extended through the use of plugins. Users can search and install plugins straight from QGIS by visiting the Plugins –> Manage and Install Plugins menu item.
Rosas-Chavoya, M., Gallardo-Salazar, J. L., López-Serrano, P. M., Alcántara-Concepción, P. C., & León-Miranda, A. K. (2022). QGIS a constantly growing free and open-source geospatial software contributing to scientific development. Cuadernos de Investigación Geográfica, 48(1), 197-213. http://doi.org/10.18172/cig.5143
This article was originally written on August 20, 2012 and has since been updated.