Open Source GIS – What You Don’t Know Costs You

When it comes to open source software, I often hear folks talk about nerdy people in their basements toiling over some pet project that has some use but falls out of support in about 6 months when the nerdy person loses interest. The reality is that open source software, software that is created and released for all to use for free, often competes with, or exceeds, proprietary software in terms of functionality, features, and security. And what you don’t know about open source really does cost you.

There are many different reasons to look at open source software – everything from the open code that can be reviewed by anyone to the community aspect of the software. But for most organizations, the most appealing aspect of using open source technologies can be the immense cost savings. Keep in mind that your organization does not have to become an entirely open source shop – you can keep 5 proprietary products, while implementing a single open source product. Even one open source product can save you a tremendous amount in licensing and maintenance costs.

Here are some of the most popular open source products, grouped by category.

Operating Systems

-Have you ever thought that you’d like to use a free operating system that doesn’t come with the licensing fees of Windows, but you’re not a command line person? Well, you’re in luck! There are many GUIs available that sit on top of Linux, a very secure and free open source operating system, but my favorite is Ubuntu. It’s user friendly, easy to install, and comes with fun colors. What are you waiting for? Ubuntu can also be run on a Chromebook if you need your cheap Chromebook to have more traditional operating system features, and can be used to speed up an older computer that doesn’t have the speed to run newer/forced Windows updates.

GIS Products

-Geonode is a phenomenal self-hosted web mapping and content management application that competes with ArcGIS Portal. When combined with GeoServer, you can even create a platform that functions like a federated deployment of ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Portal. Sure – you might spend a little longer reading the documentation, but deploying Geonode and/or GeoServer can get you free version of AGOL or ArcGIS Server respectively. This can be a huge cost savings, and is especially appealing if your organization can not afford ArcGIS Online or other Esri products.

-QGIS now outpaces ArcMap/ArcGIS Pro in many functionalities, and is truly an enterprise ready GIS software. There is even a mobile app (QGIS Field) and GIS server (QGIS Server) that are ready to support your GIS workflows from start to finish. You can even use QGIS to work with a variety of Esri file types directly!

Cell Phone Operating Systems
-Did you know that there are free and open source operating systems for phones? Particularly for Android (Linux) based phones? Why does this matter for organizations? Well, there are two reasons organizations might care – you could have intensely strict security requirements, or you might only have a budget for a bunch of beater phones and your users are complaining about performance. There are custom operating systems out there, like Rattlesnake OS or GrapheneOS, that take the newest distributions of Android and allow you to create the most secure versions possible for your employee’s phones. There are also operating systems our there, like the every popular LineageOS and derivatives, that are quick and easy to deploy on your employees phones and can tremendously speed up performance – especially when you’re using cheap/old beater phones.

Web Meetings

-Who hasn’t struggled with the costs of web meeting platforms in today’s day and age? You sign up for a free one, but the features continue to become more and more limited – like you can’t have more like 4 participants, or meetings are limited to 30 minutes. Well, fear no more! Check out Jitsi! It’s quick and easy to create a meeting room, it’s simple, and stunningly performant.

ERP Systems

-The free and open source world has even come up with options for ERP systems! Check out ERPNext, based out of India. ERP implementations can be tremendously expensive. If you have the time, ERPNext allows you to deploy an ERP system that you customize to your exact workflows – for free! You can even pay them for a support plan if you want additional help.

There are so many other products out there. And you don’t have to use them – but you’ll be doing yourself a financial disservice if you don’t know about these free and open source products when it comes time to decide what software to go with as your organization develops.

Let me know what you think!