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Open access repository of general GIS spatial data?

I'm brand new to GIS programming so please excuse my lack of knowledge.

I am developing a GIS web app using MapGuideOS to host raster images (base maps?) and PostGres for some vector data. I've been reading a lot of documentation and books but some things are still a little confusing...

Where can I get some free base maps for the united states (Does that mean I need shapefiles)? I want to host something similar to the basic view of google maps (state boundaries, county boundaries and roads), but only for the United States. I know I can use google maps and draw my vector data on it, but I would like to explore options for hosting it myself, before I commit to GoogleMaps/Bing/Yahoo.

Thanks

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marked as duplicate by underdark Jul 6 '11 at 19:14

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Natural Earth is a good source to start with. There are also some good answers on this site to similar questions.

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Thank you- It seems I was using the wrong keywords in my search! –  Nate Jul 6 '11 at 23:34
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