I spent the day yesterday at Towson University attending the TUGIS 2013 conference. The new one-day format was a firehose that showcased the diversity of geospatial work occurring across the State of Maryland. The keynote by Learon Dalby was well-received and the content of the conference was generally substantive. While the day was a sprint, there was one workshop that really caught my attention more so than I would have thought from its title.

The photo below shows 40 participants of an “Introduction to Free and Open Source GIS Software” workshop getting hands-on experience with QGIS and PostGIS by working through prepared but realistic scenarios. These scenarios included doing multi-user editing and performing spatial analysis to assess the effects of a potential toxic release over a small town.

The workshop was put together by Dr. Arthur Lembo of Salisbury University and conducted by him and a team of his students, who not only led portions of the workshop but were also stationed around the room to provide guidance to participants. The scenarios were prepared in printed workbooks that the participants were free to take with them, along with information about how to download the tools. All-in-all, I thought the workshop was very well-designed and presented a thorough overview of the capabilities of these two tools.

To be sure, the workshop was not all unicorns and rainbows. There were typical glitches such as file system and database permission issues that required on-the-fly adjustments, which Dr. Lembo and his students handled well. Some participants were clearly stumped at points while others were making good headway with the examples.

Many of the participants probably remain committed ArcGIS users after the workshop while others may very well dig in and more thoroughly explore QGIS and PostGIS, but that’s really beside the point. Regardless of what the individual participants decide to do with the information from the workshop, all left with hands-on exposure to the tools that was presented in a manner that was free of hyperbole, FUD, or market-speak. They now have more first-hand information with which to make their own educated decisions as to how they want to proceed with their geospatial technology choices; and that, in my opinion, may have been the most valuable outcome of the workshop.

Bill Dollins

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  • Brian Timoney


    Couldn’t agree more with your takeway–de-mystifying open source software is a useful exercise in and of itself, especially for mid-career/management types.

    I would love to see similar workshops focused on GitHub geared towards the same demographic: not to turn them into coders, but to understand the process and how it has had such a multiplier effect on open software development.


    • I agree. I think there’s something to GitHub beyond coding. As a collaboration tool, it seems to get it “right” more so than many things I’ve seen so far. I think there’s a lot of untapped potential.

      • artlembo

        We are going to post the workshop online (handouts and the data) – probably tomorrow. I regret that we didn’t video tape it. In the meantime, here is a pdf that those students put together on “How do I do that in Quantum GIS”. I figured that it was about time I got around to it, since we did the ArcGIS/Manifold one years back:

  • The Ordnance Survey (UK) ran a good taster session workshop recently. On QGIS mainly. Very useful as an introduction. I was surprised at the capability QGIS provided.

    • I am firmly convinced the functional “daylight” you can see between QGIS and something like ArcMap is quite small. I think the differences between them lie in the edge cases and, at those extremes, each probably has capability that the other doesn’t.

      • Don Barker

        Has anyone quantified this? I spent the morning looking for a recent comparison matrix. Could not find one that starts with the ArcGIS toolbox and shows what’s still missing in QGIS. So we can decide if the difference matters. Anyone know where to find this?

        • I don’t know that any structured comparison has been done recently. I am clearly voicing my own opinion here.

  • The training materials are now available here: and here:


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