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Note: This question is specifically about installed, desktop software. There is another question specifically about free cloud-based software and services.

I'm not necessarily referring to ESRI extensions or open-source products, but others that increase your productivity and ability to handle GIS tasks.

For example, Notepad++ for writing code snippets or editing XMLs. Paint.NET or GIMP for quick graphic editing.

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This thread is already better because everything is free/open source. –  blah238 Jul 12 '11 at 23:14
I think the "free" qualifier makes this question sufficiently different. –  blah238 Jul 12 '11 at 23:23
Most of the mentioned tools revolve around GIS dev., rather than GIS tools that I haven't heard of but should've. For the most part and except for one or two niche programs, the listed tools here and in this other Q revolve around "Creating GIS", rather than "Using GIS". They're also tools that you should know about anyways if you were involved with another type of development or GIS. My last gripe is the disconnect between GIS Tools for different OSEs: Arc vs. Else. –  dassouki Jul 13 '11 at 12:14
@Petr, I think the value is that it exposes people both experienced and inexperienced to free and open source apps they may have never heard of but which their peers use in their everyday GIS work. I don't think it would be the question of the month if it didn't have value! –  blah238 Jul 28 '11 at 5:37

56 Answers 56

soapUI is a really good tool for testing SOAP and REST web services. It's designed more for building extensive test suites, but it's also a fairly quick way to run simple one-off calls to your web services.

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If you want to work with SONAR data SonarWave Lite is a free solution. It was referenced on this thread on GIS SE.

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Gaia from Carbon Project is free and supports many spatial data types.


"Gaia is a platform designed for advanced geospatial network and SDI needs. Based on the CarbonTools PRO open-geospatial development toolkit, this viewer can access an array of geospatial sources such as the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Web Mapping Service (WMS), Web Map Tile Service (WMTS), Web Coverage Service (WCS), Web Feature Service (WFS), and Filter Encoding (FE), services such as Microsoft Bing Maps, Yahoo! Maps and OpenStreetMap (OSM), as well as file formats such as ESRI Shapefiles, Google Earth KML/KMZ, DXF, MIF, Geography Markup Language (GML) and GML Simple Features (GMLsf)."

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TatukGISViewer is great for quick viewing of raster and vector files. I work with both ESRI and MapInfo which forces me to do tons of converting .tabs to .shps or the other way around. Tatuk is great because it handles both formats, just drag-and-drop and they all show up nicely. It also truly shows the geographic location of the data if two datasets have different coordinate systems (I don´t like ESRIs automatic compensationing).

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Everything, quickly find any file in your computer.

Evernote, remember everything of life.

Python Tools for Visual Studio, a VS plugin for python.

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Here it is another solution: Geobide SDK a set of components for the development of gis professional applications. Free versions of the tools are available.

Geomap, System for viewing, editing and analysis; [Geoconverter][3], geodetic reference systems and geographic formats converter: Converts formats, ipdate fields... (available in English); [Geobuilder][4], solution for the design and execution of diagrams of geoprocessing. (available in English); [Geobridge][5], plug-in for access to CAD/GIS data from Autocad, Microstation, ArcGIS...

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GPSBabel to convert waypoints, tracks, and routes between popular GPS receivers and mapping programs.

enter image description here

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OpenRefine (formerly Google-Refine).

This free and open-source tool is awesome for cleaning up messy data. I typically use it for fairly simple operations like concatenation, trimming, replacing one character with another, removing spelling mistakes, etc.

One of my most common use cases is grouping similar items via the clustering tools. This is great for finding spelling mistakes or abbreviation problems (e.g. Road, road, rode, rd, rd.) and changing them all to a single correct value.

Having clean data makes database operations and definition queries MUCH simpler to perform. You can even "record" the operations you've performed on a set of data for reuse on the next bit of messy data you encounter.

I don't use anywhere near the full potential of this software, but I find it easy to pick up and use for the simple tasks I've described. Here are some screencasts that touch on some of the more advanced operations. Oh yeah, you can also use it for geocoding!

The project has moved from HERE to GitHub.

Here's what the ReadMe says:

OpenRefine is a power tool that allows you to load data, understand it, clean it up, reconcile it internally, and augment it with data coming from Freebase or other web sources. All with the comfort and privacy of your own computer.

The wiki has everything you need to know including download links.

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Excellent sugestions here.

Just thought I would add the FREE Double CAD XT which is an AutoCAD LT-like program with more features then AutoCAD LT, simpler interface. Excellent for those GIS folks that have to interact with a lot of CAD data. Double CAD XT also claims excellent support for Sketchup - might be a good tool for those looking to integrate GIS, CAD & SketchUp data.

AutoCAD LT ($1200) and Double Cad XT ($0) Comparison chart

enter image description here

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Its a nice tools published by the developers to analyse the map documents and data. It will help you identify which layers needs to simplified so that they can be loaded faster if you have huge datasets with large number of vertices.


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gvSIG is also another great GIS software as an alternative to (or run alongside of) QuantumGIS. http://www.gvsig.org

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I didn't see any mention of CrimeStat: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/CrimeStat/

Which offers some great tools and features for statistical and spatial analysis.

GeoDa also offers a great lightweight GIS for viewing spatial data, creating box-charts and other graphs, as well as editing tabular data:


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I don't think anyone here has mentioned CartoDB which is a cloud based GIS tool for visualizing and analyzing geospatial data. Your data is automatically imported into a postGIS database allowing for complex SQL queries. It also has a robust set of tools to style your data (including Carto CSS), and you may choose base maps from other services such as MapBox.

I saw a few people mention TileMill but don't believe I saw anyone mention MapBox, the company that created TileMill and is doing some really awesome work with OpenStreetMap data and cloud based GIS. Both MapBox and CartoDB have free account options.

Speaking of OpenStreetMap, I don't think anyone mentioned that as a very good free/open-data source. The data is under an opendb license. Here are a few places to grab shapefile data from OSM:

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For doing computational geometry (COGO) work -- i.e., calculations involving plane coordinates and angles and distances -- Copan is a great tool, I've used it a lot (but I was also a developer).

Copan's Cogo dialog lets you enter combinations of known points, angles and distances and it provides the missing data It also presents the relationships graphically

The above represents only one of the functions of Copan. There are other tasks -- such as coordinates transformation and map boundary closure checking, that land surveyors and civil engineers find useful -- available in Copan.

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The ability to create city/province/country shapefiles of your data with the click of a button (instead of a lot of technical and manual work) is certainly something every GIS-user would want.

Therefore I suggest my own free/independently created software called "Easy Georeferencer" which is simple, easy to use, and yet powerful (see screenshot at the bottom of the post).

The program is simple and straight-forward to use, and is run directly from an exe file requiring no installation. You can choose to geocode between the GNS or GeoNames datasource, and you can do what no other geocoder so far can do, geocode provinces based on the GADM administrative units database, as well as geocode historical country borders from the CShapes dataset. The only caveat is that it does not geocode address data. All outputs come as shapefiles ready for immediate visualization/analysis in a GIS.

As far as regards efficiency and handling of large data, the program has been tested to geocode 100 000 records in only 3 hours. For larger datasets the expected increase in processing time should drop curvilinearly because much of the processing time goes only to the initial phase when the country reference datasets are loaded, but picks up afterwards. Also, one does not have to worry about internet bottle-necks or connectivity issues when geocoding large datasets because the software, reference datasets, and processing are all based on the local computer. Match rates can get up to 80-90 percent because it is based on fuzzy-name matching accounting for spelling differences.

More details, including an introductory paper and beginner's guide are included in the download package. No need to be hesitant about trying it, the program is just a simple file that you can place and run on your desktop without any commitment or cluttering of your computer.

The software can be downloaded from: http://geocodeanything.wordpress.com/

Hope that helps.

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You should always disclose that are the author/developer and/or work for the company that produces a software product. –  RyanDalton Oct 21 '13 at 4:49

For metadata and other XML files, First Object's Free XML editor (Windows) works really well.

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While it's not focused on GIS development, Rainmeter has proven to be very useful in terms of increasing productivity and monitoring system resources. I have created a GIS "sidebar" on my desktop that holds all of my development tools, as well as links to the online resources I used the most. It's nice to be able to use one location, rather than many (e.g. taskbar, bookmarks in browser, search engine).

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For file management that goes beyond windows explorer, it's hard to beat eXtreme from http://textmode.cwahi.net/

for quick viewing of shapefiles, where you can see the shape and the attributes table, I use Mapbrowser from http://www.vdstech.com/mapbrowser.htm

For renaming multiple files I use http://www.fastfilerenamer.com/

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I am working with Rasterdata a lot, DEMs and Orthofotos so I have a bunch of basic tools I need to handle them

  • Landserf is great for quickviewing DEMs, create Hillshades, Slope, Aspects, Profiles, and to convert to other formats (ASCII Grid to XYZ for example). A good alternative is GridConvert
  • I use TotalCommander to manage thousands of files,renaming them (create worldfiles and renaming them to fit to tifs for example)
  • Since ER Mapper is ERDAS now its hard to get, but free ECW Compressor and ECW Header Editor are still better (in compressing images) than GDAL with the ECW SDK linked. Lucky you if you still have the setups.
  • Already said here, that Irfan View is one of the best Image Viewing and processing tools out there
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Here are a couple of web-based tools for entry-level GIS users:

Inquiron has a free online file converter for shp/xls/csv/gpx/dxf/kml to kml with more content being added. It's a simple process of just dragging and dropping the file into the relevant box - if you're using Chrome the file will automatically download.

There's also Mapsdata which lets you load geodata from xls/csv to view as pins, heatmaps, bubble maps, cluster maps, all of which can be colored, made transparent, etc. They have auto export to png and iframe.

Both of those are geared towards the novice or lite GIS user and aren't designed to detract from QGIS, etc.

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Bulk Rename Utility is a great program that can do a lot of renaming and custom naming for data sources without the need of scripting. Data is an absolute for GIS individuals, and having access to free data is a great tool to have. I regularly use geobase.ca, geogratis.gc.ca and ESDI at the Global Land Cover Facility to get a range of raster and vector products.

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I posted this question awhile back now, but have found that I am using Google Tasks daily and I think it's worth mentioning. It's not GIS-specific, but it's a great tool, especially if you independently and on multiple projects where purchasing time-management software isn't reasonable.

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I love PicPick for Windows for image capture/quick editing and on-screen measurements, it includes a screenshot capture utility, an on-screen protractor, pixel ruler, color picker, and more. The current version (3.1.7) is free for personal use only. The last version that was free for all uses is 2.1.5, I use that version daily and very rarely does it give me any problems.

Another handy link is http://www.321download.com/LastFreeware/index.html, which has downloads of the last freeware versions of some popular programs that later became shareware or commercial software. I don't think it's updated anymore but the download links still work.

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Nobody mentioned about proj.4 ..fascinating..

Proj.4 is an open source cartograpic projection library and tool that works hidden in the most of desktop gis, spatial databases aund gis service software (web stuff). You can use it also very effictive at the command line and beside of geotrans (which has military roots) it is IMO the open source tool to transform cooordinates between geodetic/geographic notations and has the possibilty to use abstract datum description (like +datum=UTM +zone=32) or numbers like EPSG (+init=epsg:32632) as well as complex coordinate system descriptions like the Swiss Oblique Mercator Projection:

+proj=somerc +lat_0=46d57’8.660"N +lon_0=7d26’22.500"E
+ellps=bessel +x_0=600000 +y_0=200000
+k_0=1. no_defs


Bye Huck

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For documentation and screen grabs and copying workflows to video, then Snagit and Camtasia are used regularly by me. These may not be GIS specific but a must in my world.

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The GPL equivalent for screen grabs is Greenshot –  Mike T Jul 12 '11 at 23:59
-1 downvoted - As far as I know, Camtasia is NOT free (I wish it was): store.techsmith.com/default.asp –  jonatr Jul 13 '11 at 5:52
@jonatr Didn't catch the "free" in the original question. Don't know if I was blind or it was added later, but the question elaboration didn't specify free, hence, my answer. –  Dan Patterson Jul 13 '11 at 18:01
Wink is a free alternative to Camtasia. It doesn't have all the features, and I don't think it's quite as polished. However, it does offer good results for free. –  user3461 Jul 13 '11 at 19:17

ER Viewer. Fantastic way of 'fool-proofing' imagery. I find that its very unbiased in the way it raster imagery is viewed.

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Could you please provide detailed explanation ? –  Sunil May 15 '13 at 17:01

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