I always wonder, why in GIS industry there are merely two major options available. Although there are many other proprietary software products for GIS, their market share is well below ESRI products (here, here and here although quite back dated). My opinion became stronger after joining GIS SE. Most of the questions, as well as the leading users (with highest reputation), are either for/interested in ESRI line of products or FOSS (of course apart from some questions related to data and theory).

However this not the case in other streams of information technology, databases and programming languages in broad sense. I personally feel one reason could be the lack of interest by the software giants like Microsoft, Google or Oracle. While the first two have WebMaps, these are not WebGIS, and the spatial extension of Oracle is not fully GIS too.

What are the major reasons for such a trend? There is nice article somewhat related to this, " The Five Major Roadblocks to GIS Gaining Corporate Market Share". But this is not the answer I am looking for.

Most of the answers seem to be trying to prove open source tools are better than Esri products! But that was not the question. Because it is difficult to compare a matured but expensive tool with a bunch of comparatively newer open source tools with great usability. My question is why no industry standard product from any established software giants?

  • I think there is a problem with the question statement since ESRI is a company and FOSS is somewhat a type of software license that covers a lot of different geo software and libraries.
    – Pablo
    Apr 16, 2012 at 20:35
  • @Pablo Agreed. Do you think the question should be rephrased as ESRI products and OSGeo projects, as Sylvester Sneekly mentioned?
    – thelastray
    Apr 16, 2012 at 20:48
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    Yes I think so.
    – Pablo
    Apr 16, 2012 at 20:53
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    I'm afraid it is an over generalization to say open source are necessarily substantially newer than ESRI. GRASS for instance has been around for a VERY long time, being ex-US military tech. The simple answer to your question though, is in my answer and, indeed in your own question. The industry standard GIS (ESRI - as you point out) is already long established (it has been around for about as long as Microsoft in fact!) and GIS is not a field which the software giants know. They are more likely to buy a smaller GIS company than develop their own if they want to enter this field. Apr 17, 2012 at 6:12

5 Answers 5


I disagree that there are only two options in the GIS industry on a number of levels. The first is that there are many other well established commercial GIS offerings other than ESRI SmallWorld, Bentley, AutoDesk, ERDAS, MapInfo, Integraph and Idrisi spring to mind without thinking too hard. You say they have a market share "well below" ESRI. ESRI admittedly has 40% of the market share, but that still leaves 60% for everybody else and Integraph has more than half of ESRI's market share - which is a substantial proportion and revenue.

Secondly, to state that ESRI is the market leader displays a bias towards 'traditional desktop' GIS. Broaden your field a little and a company called MDA outstrips ESRI. You can debate whether Googl;e is a 'real' GIS but it certainly provides basic functionality to the masses and arguably has infinitely greater penetration into the home-user market than ESRI can ever claim. We haven't even touched on NASA, Trimble and the rest of the GPS market, all of whom are part of the wider GIS industry.

Thirdly, it is hardly logical to lump all FOSS software into a single camp anymore than it is to say that ESRI it would be to say that the only commercial GIS is related to ESRI. You might make a case for lumping all software under development by OsGeo together (though I would dispute the validity of that too). Even then, this would still leave many 'indie' FOSSGIS products un accounted for.

You mention Oracle. Oracle spatial is one of the biggest and most common GIS databases available. No, it is not 'a GIS' but it is part of the GIS industry. Of course the giants like MicroSoft and Google are interested in GIS. Why else would they develop Bing Maps (Microsoft) and Google Earth? However, when it comes to fully-featured hard-core GIS, they are decades behind the likes of ESRI, Integraph and GRASS (for instance). This is not their market and they wisely are sticking to what they know, which is software for the masses.

Far from being a bad thing, I believe it is a very positive sign of a young, healthy and growing industry that there are in fact so many companies carving out names for themselves alongside a very vibrant FOSS community. To have a couple of giants like MicroSoft controlling GIS development would be stifling. You really would have the scenario of only one or two products to choose from.

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    Nice to see such optimistic answer towards Open Source GIS products.
    – thelastray
    Apr 16, 2012 at 19:05
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    However for your points: Firstly as in my question I have mentioned my observation is largely influenced by GIS SE, questions tagged with Intergraph is only 2, whereas it is 1195 for arcgis only! Secondly NASA, Trimble and others are part of wider Geomatics industry and it's not the same as GIS. Thirdly Google with basic mapping navigation tools serving the mass is not GIS, if so then Access/Excel will become better database than Oracle! I only wonder why don't we have a product line like Oracle, DB2, Informix, SQLServer, MysQL, PostGreSQL, SQLLite, Sybase, Teradata and so on to choose from.
    – thelastray
    Apr 16, 2012 at 19:05
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    GIS does not neatly fit into the 'one product' scenario common elsewhere. Even ESRI is not a single product but many products with different uses. I would argue that we have a richer mix with greater interoperability than most software groups. We might use one 'GIS' front end but any number of different spatially enable DB back ends. As for Google, mapping is a perfectly valid example of a sector of GIS, just as Access is a perfectly valid DB. You might not like it and might require something better as a professional but you can't dismiss the product because of your graeter requirements. Apr 16, 2012 at 19:29
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    @thelastray I wouldn't really go by how many questions a bit of software has on GIS.SE. This is a still a young site and a lot of the other vendors have their own sites which are more active, take MapInfo-L for example or the ESRI forums.
    – Nathan W
    Apr 16, 2012 at 21:02

ESRI's been around for a long time, and essentially helped invent the term "GIS". There are other big players, but they often come from a different angle (i.e. AutoCAD Map 3D, or Intergraph/Microstation). Increasingly all these different dominant players in the maps/drafting/design world are starting to overlap and come together, but they still hold their own niches.

There are some smaller players that have made decent attempts (i.e. Manifold), but as someone who works for a big company, intertia is hard to overcome, and big companies want to go with the de Facto "standard", so they by Microsoft and ESRI (who have partnered in various ways), rather than looking at Linux/FOSS/smaller companies.

Could the industry benefit from an ecosystem of smaller companies? Certainly. Is it more likely that FOSS will help provide the necessary pressure on ESRI? I suspect so...

If the question is to help determine how to get a start-up GIS software company off the ground, I'd suggest looking for other angles into the market than trying to go straight up against the like of ESRI. Gaining a clear understanding of pinch points in other IS/IT workflows, and working to leverage off of one of those pinch points is likely more productive than trying to make a desktop software to compete with the big boys (no one is going to want to learn another package on top of what they've already learned unless it's free, or very obviously helps them past a major pinch point in their workflow, no matter how much better that software is than other commercially available packages).

  • +1 for your concluding remark. But at the same time you can not ignore the continuous development of ESRI products. They are not only good GIS products, they are very user friendly too, for beginners to get started with, as well as for experts to carry out complex analysis. There are other specialized GIS software companies who lost the race, despite being around for quite a long time, specially MapInfo.
    – thelastray
    Apr 16, 2012 at 18:01
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    I'd argue that the learning curve for using Arc products is still pretty steep. I think QGIS is making substantial improvements towards a simplified, and easier to work with interface, while at the same time providing powerful back-ends. Good to see ESRI have some competition and pressure.
    – Cameron
    Apr 16, 2012 at 18:05
  • I'm not sure I would agree with ESRI being user friendly, especially not Arc* range, some of the UI is pretty confusing just to do something simple.
    – Nathan W
    Apr 16, 2012 at 20:57

To answer the question: Why no industry standard product from any established software giants?

The problem is you appear to be begging the question. There is an industry standard product from an established software giant. They're called ESRI and being founded in 1969 they easily predate Microsoft (1975), Google (1998), Oracle(1977), and Apple(1976). The reason none of those corporations offer a full GIS is because, its outside of their remit. Each of them dominates their field, just like ESRI does GIS, and each of them has smaller-scale proprietary and open source competitors.

Microsoft is first and foremost a OS company, though they also make office productivity software. While they have their fingers in a lot of pies, most of those efforts are typically lackluster and have a dismally small market share. Exceptions are Bing and Xbox where they effectively used their money to buy a share; both of these things supports their core products however.

Google is an advertising company that happens to do well in Search. They too branch a lot but everything they do has a web-element.

Oracle is a database company. They have a database extension to their GIS but why would they offer a full GIS? Again, its outside of their remit.

ESRI are a GIS company. They don't offer a database solution, or a web-search solution or an Operating System, just like those companies don't offer full desktop GISes. It just happens that GIS is a more niche field which is probably why ESRI are "only" worth about 1% of the other companies listed here.


This StackExchange site is also tilted heavily towards ESRI products. The combination of not-great usability, lots of complexity, and expensive support means that people flock here.

Open source projects have support forums, active issue repositories, and such; but this happens on GitHub and elsewhere, not here.

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    That's true, but there are also a substantial number of people from these open source projects hanging out here because it's a much more user-friendly entrance to their projects than a mailing list etc. Personally, I would like GIS-SE to attract people from the other mailing list / company forums. Mapinfo-L is nowhere near as rich as SE, and the Manifold forum is populated with extremely capable individuals, but is unfortunately fairly stringently censored by Manifold themselves, which has cut out some of the more interesting discussion
    – Stev_k
    Apr 17, 2012 at 8:48
  • @Stev_k please encourage them to come over! I'm sure they'll like it. Apr 18, 2012 at 12:44

However this not the case in other streams of information technology, databases and programming languages in broad sense.

Having one dominant market player is not rare for professional programs on a PC: Autodesk for CAD, Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop/Indesign,...

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