I'm more or less completely new to GIS. At work we use a program called Microvision which does stuff like work out drive distance (in addition to straight line distance) from which you can then create distance bands. Plus has some other mapping features like creating layered ranges. However it has got to be one of the worst programs I have ever had the displeasure of using (not in terms of features, but just in the way it has been coded).

So I'm looking at open source alternatives instead. My problem is that I really have no idea where to start. I downloaded SAGA but quickly realised how far out of my depth I am. The features SAGA boasts are cool, but in some respects it is may more powerful than I need. I also don't understand how to import a base map into SAGA. I found some demo maps which are cool, but I have no idea how to create those maps in the first place. Someone on another forum suggested Quantum GIS, so I've going to give that a go very soon.

My main needs/desires are below, if you can suggest something to match them, I'd be really grateful:

  1. A prebuilt map of the world (or least Australia), or some process to follow to create one. This is so I can then overlay our own maps and views over top of it.
  2. Something with a lot of customisation and preferably a good API. An ability to manipulate and transform data within the program would be great (even if it requires grunt work coding to do). Microvision is one of the most rigid pieces of software I've ever used and doesn't let you customise anything.
  3. Typically my data will be at a postcode level, so the ability to map postcodes to latitudes and longitudes would be awesome. Something that comes with postcode catchments, or even census collection districts for Australia would be AMAZING.
  4. Drive time, aka googlemaps style. This isn't essential, but it would really help us for some of the work we do. Of course I can do approximations using straight line distance, but Australia isn't the flattest of countries so something that can look at drive distances would be fantastic.

Help appreciated :)

1 Answer 1


Here are a few quick ideas (in response to your list above) that might help you get started.

1- You can download some basic map boundary from: Global Administrative Layers. And at a continental scale, many layers from Natural Earth Data. THere are many other sources of free data available.

2- QGIS is the right choice since it is very customizable thru python plugins

3- A quick Google search shows postcode data available from: AU Post

4- This is a more complicated mission. You need to make a road network from a simple layer of streets. The spatial database PostGIS has a tool "pgrouting" that can find routes from one point to another, and calculate the travel distance. But translating that to travel time is another layer of complexity.


  • 1
    Natural Earth actually has complete QGIS documents bundled with their datasets, not just the layers! Great starting place.
    – Simbamangu
    May 16, 2012 at 7:42
  • Thanks folks, this is really helpful! I'll be delving into QGIS soon, those layers sound like they will help too. PostGIS sounds interesting. Might be a bit complex but I'll have a look at it. I don't mind a big pet project every now and then :) May 17, 2012 at 22:54

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