I mentioned to a friend that I was participating in a discussion about OSS and he has some interesting experiences to share from his time as a student using GIS s/w - commercial versus OS (see below)
Teaching of GIS in Australian universities and the dominance of ESRI
Geographic Information System (GIS) is a system for creating, storing, analyzing and managing spatial data and associated attributes. In the strictest sense, it is a computer system capable of integrating, storing, editing, analyzing, sharing, and displaying geographically referenced information. In a more generic sense, GIS is a tool that allows users to create interactive queries (user created searches), analyze the spatial information, and edit data. Geographic Information Science is the science underlying the applications and systems, taught as a degree programme by several universities.
Geographic Information system technology can be used for scientific investigations, resource management, asset management, Environmental Impact Assessment, Urban planning, cartography, and route planning. For example, a GIS might allow emergency planners to easily calculate emergency response times in the event of a natural disaster, or a GIS might be used to find wetlands that need protection from pollution.
ESRI was founded as Environmental Systems Research Institute in 1969 as a privately held consulting firm that specialized in land use analysis projects. The worldwide headquarters of ESRI are anchored in a multicampus environment in Redlands, California. ESRI is said to control somewhere between 75-85% of the market for GIS software. This market includes many universities; and probably all universities in Australia.
Consequently, Australian tertiary courses in GIS and related areas (such as remote sensing) tend to be taught exclusively on an ESRI product platform.
Subsequently, students are not taught use of open source packages that can be freely downloaded from the WWW. Many of these have been produced on campuses around the world; indicative of the level of expertise that can be developed when a more liberal, less monopolistic approach is taken to the selection of software used in the teaching of GIS.
Some GIS open source packages that are currently in use in campuses in other parts of the world:
A) GRASS: Commonly referred to as GRASS, this is a Geographic Information System (GIS) used for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, graphics/maps production, spatial modeling, and visualization. GRASS is currently used in academic and commercial settings around the world, as well as by many governmental agencies and environmental consulting companies. Geographic Resources Analysis Support System, commonly referred to as GRASS GIS, is a Geographic Information System (GIS) used for data management, image processing, graphics production, spatial modelling, and visualization of many types of data. It is Free (Libre) Software/Open Source released under GNU General Public License (GPL). Originally developed by the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories (USA-CERL, 1982-1995), a branch of the US Army Corp of Engineers, as a tool for land management and environmental planning by the military, GRASS has evolved into a powerful utility with a wide range of applications in many different areas of scientific research. GRASS is currently used in academic and commercial settings around the world, as well as many governmental agencies including NASA, NOAA, USDA, DLR, CSIRO, the National Park Service, the U.S. Census Bureau, USGS, and many environmental consulting companies.
GRASS software is currently downloadable from a site maintained at Trenito Cultural Institute in Italy. GRASS runs mainly on LINUX platforms-but can be adapted for use on Windows .
B) MICRODEM-is a microcomputer mapping program written by Professor Peter Guth of the Oceanography Department, U.S. Naval Academy. It requires a 32 bit version of Windows (NT/2000/XP or 95/98/ME).
C) Quantum GIS: Quantum GIS-
Quantum GIS (QGIS) is a user friendly Open Source Geographic Information System (GIS) that runs on Linux, Unix, Mac OSX, and Windows. QGIS supports vector, raster, and database formats. QGIS is licensed under the GNU General Public License. QGIS lets you browse and create map data on your computer. It supports many common spatial data formats (e.g. ESRI ShapeFile, geotiff). QGIS supports plugins to do things like display tracks from your GPS.
The above are some of the more common packages in use, but even around these three, an international community of users has grown, who meet regularly to learn and trade ideas-Australian universities have excluded themselves and their students from this opportunity.
An example of one such international collaboration is provided below:
The Open Source Geospatial Foundation, or OSGeo, is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support and promote the collaborative development of open geospatial technologies and data. The foundation provides financial, organizational and legal support to the broader open source geospatial community. It also serves as an independent legal entity to which community members can contribute code, funding and other resources, secure in the knowledge that their contributions will be maintained for public benefit. OSGeo also serves as an outreach and advocacy organization for the open source geospatial community, and provides a common forum and shared infrastructure for improving cross-project collaboration.
The following more detailed goals support the overall mission:
- To provide resources for foundation projects - eg. infrastructure, funding, legal.
- To promote freely available geodata - free software is useless without data.
- To promote the use of open source software in the geospatial industry (not just foundation software) - eg. PR, training, outreach.
- To encourage the implementation of open standards and standards-based interoperability in foundation projects.
- To ensure a high degree of quality in foundation projects in order to build and preserve the foundation "brand".
- To make foundation and related software more accessible to end users - eg. binary "stack" builds, cross package documentation.
- To provide support for the use of OSGeo software in education via curriculum development, outreach, and support.
- To encourage communication and cooperation between OSGeo communities on different language (eg. Java/C/Python) and operating system (eg. Win32, Unix, MacOS) platforms.
- To support use and contribution to foundation projects from the worldwide community through internationalization of software and community outreach.
- To operate an annual OSGeo Conference, possibly in cooperation with related efforts (eg. EOGEO).
- To award the Sol Katz award for service to the OSGeo community.
Underlying all of the above is the issue of cost: it appears that universities these days assume that students are cash cows that they must milk in ever way possible.
In the case of GIS teaching and ESRI, it appears that little regard has been given to the advantages that can accrue to students if they are taught the tools necessary to utilize software that is freely available.
Instead Australian universities seem to have accepted as a given that GIS graduates will either purchase for themselves or if not enter organizations that will purchase for them the licenses required to use ESRI products.