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

What free programs should every GIS user have installed?

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.
  • I use Google Tasks daily and I think it's worth mentioning. It's not GIS-specific, but it's a great tool, especially if used independently and on multiple projects where purchasing time-management software isn't reasonable.
  • 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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    This thread is already better because everything is free/open source. – blah238 Jul 12 '11 at 23:14
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    I think the "free" qualifier makes this question sufficiently different. – blah238 Jul 12 '11 at 23:23
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    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
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    I think this is the kind of question which should have been closed right away, wiki or not. I mean, just look at the answers so far.. pretty much everything goes. From Fiddler to GIMP to ColorBrewer to VirtualDub to SharpDevelop (and no, SharpDevelop is not for converting from C# to VB.NET). Where's the real value? – Petr Krebs Jul 26 '11 at 20:45
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    @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

42 Answers 42


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:



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.


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.

enter image description here

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    You should always disclose that are the author/developer and/or work for the company that produces a software product. – RyanKDalton Oct 21 '13 at 4:49
  • @RyanDalton I did disclose that I was the author when I wrote "software I created", though I can see how it might have gone unnoticed because it was not given much emphasis in the sentence. Have changed my wording to hopefully make it clearer that I am condoning my own software. – Karim Bahgat Oct 21 '13 at 13:04

Tthe FREE Double CAD XT 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

  • I've been looking for a good AutoCAD replacement for a long time. Thanks for linking to this one. – Devdatta Tengshe May 15 '13 at 14:56

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/


Everything, quickly find any file in your computer.

Evernote, remember everything of life.

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


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

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.


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.


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.


HDFview is geared for use with satellite data or climate model output that often comes in hierarchical data formats or netcdfs, but it's one of those things like a good text editor (ex. notepad++ or vim), where once you come across certain file types you need this tool to get a first look at them and understand how things are structured. It's not really meant for much more than getting a first look at the data and its metadata, but it will also do some basic plots and mapping and is easy to use.



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.

  • This would need to access an ArcGIS for Desktop or ArcGIS Engine license to run so cannot be considered free. – PolyGeo Mar 5 '16 at 5:17

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