There are two factors that stop people from exploring or adopting free and open source (FOSS) GIS software. The first is fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). While it's true that corporations, such as Microsoft, have used FUD as a marketing strategy (purposely spreading FUD about OS software), FUD regarding FOSS GIS software is now commonly spread by GIS users themselves. I don't think this is intentional. Rather, it can be counterintuitive for people who have grown up in a competitive capitalist society to understand why anyone would create and use free software.
Initially people often wonder:
- How can I make money using FOSS software?
- Why would anyone create FOSS software, what's in it for them?
The other main factor is unfamiliarity. Over the last two summers I've taught a semester long course called, Introduction to Open Source GIS at the local community college. The GIS program at my school, like most, is ESRI-centric. A majority of the students are very surprised to learn about the broad array of FOSS GIS software. Once exposed to FOSS software, such as QGIS, they ask, "Why doesn't everyone use it?" It comes down to a combination of these two factors.
In full disclosure, I also use ArcGIS almost every day. However, I also utilize all the leading FOSS GIS software. I consider them all valuable tools in my toolkit. One of the nice features of FOSS GIS software is that it's free. So there is absolutely nothing preventing you from downloading a FOSS GIS package and trying it out. If it doesn't meet your needs just uninstall it. My hope is to inspire people to do exactly this.
This year the FOSS4G Conference is in Denver, CO and very accessible to those of us in the USA. The timing couldn't be better to learn more about FOSS4G. While FOSS GIS software has been around since the 1980's, recent years have seen the software becoming much more mature and user friendly. There are great FOSS GIS products for the desktop, web server, web client, spatial database and mobile GIS. There are now intuitive Windows installers for all the leading packages.
So, if you have questions like:
- What is free and open source software?
- What FOSS GIS software is out there?
- Is it really free?
- Does it work?
Hope to see you there!