Five Reasons to Start Using QGIS

Caitlin Dempsey

Updated:

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).

A chart with green gradient bars showing the rapid increase in the number of research papers using QGIS between 2004 and 2020.
QGIS has experienced a rapid growth among academics. Graph: QGIS evolution (2005-2020) regarding number of publications, Rosas-Chavoya et. al., 2022, CC BY 4.0

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.

Worldwide users of QGIS. Analysis by Gary Sherman, December 2011.
Worldwide users of QGIS. Analysis by Gary Sherman, December 2011.

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.  

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.

Growth of GIS job listings with the term open source.
Growth of GIS job listings with the term open source between 2006 and 2012.

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.

The QGIS website offers a QGIS Training manual with tutorials or users can follow the self-guided A gentle introduction in GIS.

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.

References

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 Geográfica48(1), 197-213. http://doi.org/10.18172/cig.5143

This article was originally written on August 20, 2012 and has since been updated.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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6 thoughts on “Five Reasons to Start Using QGIS”

  1. Please tell me about “the QGIS organization” which “publishes case studies that highlight the practical application of the GIS software on its site.” What exactly is it?

  2. If I’m reading that chart correctly, am I to understand that its peak trend (over two years ago), that 7/10 of 1% of GIS job postings were looking for open source experience? That seems like a statistic that an open source proponent might not desire to publicize.

  3. The percentage is of matching jobs positions as compared to the total number of jobs pulled through the Indeed.com. Indeed.com pulls in 2-3 million jobs a month. So around January of 2006, 0.02 represented about 4k jobs (usual 2 million as the total number) and now the number vacillates around 12k jobs (if we take 0.006% as the average for the last couple of years). Still a small amount but showing a strong growth pattern. That said, I agree it’s probably a bit confusing to interpret so I have switch out the graph for one showing representative growth.

  4. The idea that organizations may use Open Source GIS in their practice is true for some countries. But to my mind it will be the communication language for GIS-specialists for some time. GIS producers will not glad to lose their mrket.

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