Desktop GIS – The Evergreen Topic

It seems that I tend to revisit the state of desktop GIS every so often. With the continued advancement of “web GIS,” as well as the increased power of mobile platforms, proliferation of spatial analysis techniques into non-traditional environments, the ubiquity of spatial databases, and a host of other factors, it’s tempting to speculate on the long-term prospects of traditional desktop GIS software. This seems especially true when the software in question originates in Redlands, California.

I was brought back to this topic by a recent discussion on Twitter, initiated by my friend, Atanas Entchev.

https://twitter.com/atanas/status/1093489694082510853

The ensuing discussion grew legs and continued much longer than I would have thought. The core of the discussion centered around confusion in Esri’s messaging or, more accurately, subsequent interpretation of Esri’s messaging with regard to the status of ArcGIS Desktop. Long story short: much ado about nothing. Esri is releasing new versions of ArcGIS Pro and ArcMap. There are primary sources reaffirming their commitment to desktop GIS, so we can all go back to what we were doing. Awesome.

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Desktop GIS

I’ve found myself using desktop GIS more and more lately. While I don’t tend to think of myself as an analyst and I’ll never be confused with a cartographer, it is simply not possible to perform GIS software development without making occasional use of desktop GIS. My typical use cases involve data preparation or query verification or similar such tasks to prove out some logic before I commit it to my application code. The screenshot below depicts my default desktop GIS configuration:

Ubuntu_12.04_terminal_fi

Yes, I have come full circle back to command-line GIS. After years of fiddling with the latest Arc/Q-GUI-du-jour, I find myself spending most of my time working with a flashing cursor.

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Desktop Not Dead

In 2011, I gave a talk at the NCGIS conference about the continued dominance of the desktop in the world of GIS. In that talk, my main point was that, regardless of the ultimate destination of GIS data or maps (cloud, server, paper, PDF, etc.), most GIS data passes through a desktop GIS at some point. I don’t have hard data to back up that claim but I think anyone who has worked in the industry for any length of time will agree that it feels right. If we loosely define “desktop GIS” to include not only GUI analytical tools like ArcMap or QGIS, but also command-line tools such as GDAL/OGR and cartographic tools such as TileMill, I think the statement is even more comfortable.

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Favorite QGIS Resources of the Moment

I’ve been dabbling more with Quantum GIS (QGIS) lately. I’m not doing anything particularly sophisticated but it’s a great viewer for some data types (SpatiaLite, GeoJSON) that aren’t supported by my commercial desktop GIS so it’s helping me validate outputs of some applications I’m writing.

While I’ll never be a real cartographer, I am interested in doing a little more. Here are the resources that have been helping me the most lately…

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