I am preparing an intermediate GIS course for graduate and undergraduate students who have likely not been in touch with anything but Esri software. It is an existing course in the curriculum that I will be teaching for the first time. Currently, ArcGIS is the software of choice for the lab sections and practical assignments.

I want to tweak the course a little to include an introduction to Open Source GIS alternatives. For now, this part of the course will only be two to four weeks (I'm thinking a kind of extended epilogue) so I won't be able to dig too deep. I hope to branch this off into a full Open Source GIS course next year, but curriculum constraints prohibit me from doing that right away.

Here's some reading I have been considering to support the Open Source GIS part of the course, to give you an idea of what I'm (not) looking for:

  • The Geospatial Desktop is a book I'd love to use for a full Open Source GIS course but is too much to cover in a few weeks. The chapter 'Survey Of Desktop Mapping Software' looks like something I could use.
  • The Dekstop GIS book is of similar breadth but currently out of print.
  • The Grass Book seems too focused on GRASS. I think GRASS will put students with an ArcGIS mindset off. Also, I want them to learn about the breadth of the OS geospatial software spectrum.
  • 'How to go from GIS novice to Pro without spending a Dime' takes a good, practical approach to delving into OS GIS, and has good links for further reading.
  • A white paper from OpenGeo talking about markets for geospatial software, and how that landscape is changing.

Can you suggest other articles and / or books that would be useful to ease students coming from an Esri / ArcGIS background into becoming aware of and using Open Source alternatives?


1 Answer 1


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Programming books are out-of-date before they are published, so the only ones I find useful are more general ones dealing with theory and processes. There is nothing specific to open-source GIS in these cases (apart from maybe a business point-of-view).

The last printed opensource book I bought, which is still available on Amazon, is Beginning MapServer, and relates to v4.0. We are now on v6.0, and I doubt many of the samples will still work. It does provide a nice background on how the project started, and a good chapter on projections, but not open-source specific.

So it is probably better to go directly to individual project's documentation, and take a few different examples such as:

Desktop: QGIS

The QGIS project provides a gentle GIS introduction, a User Guide, a Coding and Compilation Guide and a API Documentation in english and in some cases also translated into several foreign languages.


Web (client-side): OpenLayers

OpenLayers documentation (the amount of prose in the docs is on the rise) - http://docs.openlayers.org/

Web (server-side): GeoServer

This User Manual is a comprehensive guide to all aspects of using GeoServer. Whether you are a novice or a veteran of this software


An even better way would be to get students to download the software and work through the many examples available on these sites if they really want to get an overview of what the software is capable.

A great resource for this is the OSGeo Live DVD:

OSGeo-Live is a self-contained bootable DVD, USB thumb drive or Virtual Machine based on Xubuntu, that allows you to try a wide variety of open source geospatial software without installing anything. It is composed entirely of free software, allowing it to be freely distributed, duplicated and passed around.

Students can download the ISO and run - this takes away much of the pain of some OS installation - especially on Windows, and lets people get right to using the software.

For open-source database management, you may also want to direct them to PostGIS in Action (@Manning Publications). I found it very useful in understanding how to put together, maintain, and optimize data in the PostgreSQL/PostGIS environment. It also has a chapter on other open-source tools (web & desktop viewers) that could prove valuable.

Actually the Desktop GIS book is back in print from Locate Press see http://geospatialdesktop.com/, that combined with the Web GIS book from Scott Davis are excellent introductory texts.

Concerning QGIS Project, I would also suggest "Learning QGIS 2.0", written by Anita Graser and published in September 2013. It is one of the latest contributions currently available, an overview here: http://www.amazon.com/Learning-QGIS-2-0-Anita-Graser/dp/178216748X.

I found it particularly clear: it is literally full of tutorials and is able to introduce a lot of "must-know" issues, such as software integration with DB (e.g. SQLite and PostGIS) and web services (WMS, WCS or WFS), giving you also some practical demos. I believe this book is currently one of the best guides for anyone who's willing to learn how to use QGIS starting from a ESRI background.

For GeoDjango and learning to create Web based GIS application you can use the following two books, both for beginners and guide you very well

  1. Python Geospatial Developement. - Erik Westra
  2. OpenLayers 2.10 Beginner's Guide - Eik Hazzard

The second book is for OpenLayers which uses javascript on ExtJS library. These are great book which will surely help you get started. I have myself used them as I too came from ESRI background.

Also the Geoserver Suite is a complete package that is going to truly allow you to develop you application and also maintain the data.

I believe that a great resource is the QGIS training manual which will soon get an update to 2.0 and it fits what you asked for if you think The Geospatial Desktop is too much. As a suggestion you could incorporate into the GIS Proprietary software curriculum Postgresql training to make a gentle pass. You could also work on the same database using proprietary and open source software or can use the QGIS python module in proprietary software e.g. ESRI or reverse.


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