I have very simple work tasks at the office (digitizing) that I would like to be able to work on at home because we are exceptionally busy.

I don't want to spend thousands of dollars purchasing ArcView, so I've been considering the possibility of downloading QGIS on my home computer.

Bringing the work home is highly preferable to staying late at the office.

Two questions:

  1. Will I experience any issues with my data moving it between the two packages?

  2. Is QGIS difficult to learn for someone who has only had exposure to ESRI software?

Any advice is welcome (ie - interface differences, known QGIS bugs, etc, etc).

  • Are you planning to work with Shapefiles? – underdark Mar 23 '12 at 23:16
  • Well, this time I will use shapefiles. I have LIDAR imagery and I'll be capturing my data from it in shapefile format. However, this may not "always" be the case. Does QGIS handle other formats (Coverages, geodatabase, CAD files, etc)? Is it buggy? Is it worth learning? – Dano Mar 23 '12 at 23:22
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    This thread seems applicable: forums.arcgis.com/threads/… – blah238 Mar 24 '12 at 0:41
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    shapefils are fine. filegdbs are fine as long as you stick to simple features. – Ragi Yaser Burhum Mar 24 '12 at 2:52
  • @ blah38 & Jakub - I'm usually able to check out licences on a company laptop (CAD, ArcView or Info, 3D Analyst & Spatial Analyst) but it wasn't available this weekend. Also, I have some potential freelance work, and I wouldn't be able to use my work software to do my own contracts, even though the work is not in conflict with what I do at the office. That's why I thought QGIS might be worth considering until I get my own ESRI software at home. Nonetheless, that is fantastic information (+1 both of you)! – Dano Mar 24 '12 at 3:22

Having been going back and forth between QGIS and ArcGIS for a couple of years (and giving up Arc totally of late), here are a few notes about what I experienced along the way.

  • Tools: I spent a fair bit of time struggling to find the same tools in QGIS that were in Arc - but GIS.se usually has an answer already posted to most of them, I found. There are still a few where you have to rely on command-line or Python processing, but the collection of plugins for QGIS is truly astounding and growing rapidly. The built-in 'vector' and 'raster' menus have the majority of what I or students seem to need. And did I mention 'free'?
  • Data: Shapefiles are straightforward to use in both, and the editing workflow is much easier in QGIS. Grids and DEMs I still find a little more difficult to get to display properly. Spatialite / PostGIS easy to access (haven't tried ESRI geodatabases in QGIS at all, but there's a recent thread about that).
  • Project layout and symbolisation: this is probably the most frustrating, if you have a beautiful map layout in Arc and want to keep on working on the same data in QGIS - the customised symbols and appearance has to be re-created anew. Oh, for an import tool for .mxd -> .qgs! Proportional symbols do NOT work the same way in QGIS and are difficult to sort out.
  • Learning curve: Generally, the workflow in QGIS seems to be a bit easier. Mainly I say this because you work in a single application, and in Arc I found myself constantly having to switch back and forth between ArcCatalog and ArcMap, often having to close the project (or the whole ArcMap app) to be able to apply tools to a data file or copy files in Catalog at the same time.
  • Thanks for the feedback. You've provided a pretty decent snapshot here. With regard to Arc, a great deal of the Catalog functionality is now available right in ArcMap with version 10 (it's fabulous!!). I understand what you're saying though. For example, you still have to close Map and head into Catalog to tweak a geodatabase, etc, etc. Nonetheless, the ArcMap 10 release impresses me more-and-more every day; they have made some incredible improvements!! I downloaded QGIS and I'm going to run a few tests with a trial download of ArcGIS (after I get used to the basics & interface. Thanks again – Dano Mar 24 '12 at 14:37
  • I've not tried 10 (stopped at 9.2) but should give it a look. I still find some operations in Arc faster/easier/prettier because I did them so often for years! The whole closing Map just to edit a shapefile drove me nuts though, QGIS much more straightforward. Happy exploring. – Simbamangu Mar 24 '12 at 17:28
  • @Dano: Turns out there IS a tool to go from .mxd -> .qgs: gis.stackexchange.com/questions/23717/… – Simbamangu Apr 18 '12 at 14:16

If you have a single-user ArcView license you can still install on a secondary computer. I had the same dilemma a while back so I contacted ESRI Canada and was told that this is perfectly fine. This provision is made under the assumption that it is still a single-user using the software while away from primary workstation. You have a limited amount (I think 4) of downloads and installs per license for situations like these and for the purposes of re-installing the software should you change computers. Still, when you use up all of these and explain the reasons for having then need of another install ESRI may still allow this on individual basis.

  • Virtual Box/Machine can be used as a work-around to have this on one computer. – Mapperz Apr 18 '12 at 14:07

I have done this too, there is more detail required in the question tho.

Moving data around is obviously more straightforward than making maps on both platforms, in fact don't expect to make maps in two places.

One major difference I found (was) that Arc selects the projection of layers by the project which they are being imported into. Whereas QGIS can manage projections on the fly and treats each individually. So Arc does not need accompanying projection information with each new dataset added to a project, whereas if QGIS doesn't find projection information it may ask or it may make an assumption depending on the version and what is set in the program preferences. I prefer the QGIS method once you know what is going on.

If it is going to be ongoing, I'd suggest setting up a Postgis server and put the data there and make the maps only in one spot. Postgis and Shapefiles are the only fully supported data interchanges at the moment, MSQL2008 is in dev for QGIS + other hacks.

And the File Browser tool in QGIS dev emulates ArcCatalog to some extent.

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    Actually, ArcGIS definitely does support reprojection on the fly and individual projections of layers. You can set the projection of the data frame, either on its own or with the first layer loaded in. Additional layers will then be reprojected to the data frame projection, based on their individual spatial reference. In this regard, both ArcGIS and QGIS work the same way. – Get Spatial Mar 26 '12 at 19:52

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