I am looking at switching over a computer from Windows to Ubuntu. I have been a Windows user all my life and been using GIS for over a decade. I am curious about the migration to Ubuntu. Mostly, what packages, bindings etc I will need/want to get. With Windows I have downloaded Python and the bindings, GDAL, FWTools etc etc. Will it be the same with Ubuntu? Or are packages bundled differently in Ubuntu?

  • 2
    You may also want to look into Linux Mint as an alternative to Ubuntu, it's based on Ubuntu but adds a lot of user-friendly features and removes the "Unity" interface that a lot of Ubuntu users do not like in favor of two alternative interfaces: MATE (which is a version of Gnome 2, which is what Ubuntu used before Unity came along) and Cinnamon (the default).
    – Dan C
    Jul 5, 2012 at 14:23
  • One resource that I found very helpful when I was learning Linux was the library.linode.com documentation, because not only did it tell you how to get stuff done, but also recommend the best ways to do it. Not specific to GIS,but covers databases, different programming languages, web servers, security etc, etc.
    – Kelso
    Jul 5, 2012 at 23:57

4 Answers 4


Practice using an Oracle VM Virtual Box and create a Ubuntu [12.04 LTS] install (use the iso from here http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop) on your current Windows PC and get use to the differences (some good, some not so much).

Created an 8GB VDI (Virtual Disk Image) and added the iso to the virtual disk

You can 'Try' Ubuntu or 'Install' Ubuntu - If you want to install QGIS and Postgis then your will need to use the install option.

One very good option in Oracle VM is to create Snapshots - so install ubuntu and create a snapshot in oracle vm - this way you can revert back to a clean install if your testing does not go to plan.

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Settings to get ubuntu running on Oracle VM

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postgis and qgis running with some sample data enter image description here

  • 1
    This was setup and running within 2 hours (QGIS and Postgres/POSTGIS) - including all the downloads and building from source.
    – Mapperz
    Jul 5, 2012 at 14:13
  • 1
    This is a great way to experiment with Ubuntu, I have done just this myself, and it's easy and straightforward. Jul 6, 2012 at 3:19
  • Thanks, I will be trying this method on a system today (+1).
    – Aaron
    Jul 25, 2012 at 17:30
  • Glad it is a useful method - this can be for multi operating systems even the Raspberry Pi (raspbian os) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raspberry_Pi
    – Mapperz
    Jul 25, 2012 at 18:08

The same applications are available, but the general experience will be much smoother, especially updates. Package managment is one of the key user-facing strengths of Linux. Everything you need is already packaged and only a gui or command away. No need for separate downloads or anything like that.

So install one of the buntu flavours and add the UbuntuGIS ppa to the list of sources in the software center.

  • Thanks, thats what I thought, but I wanted to make sure. This may be a bit of a moronic question. I am starting to script with Python and looking to get into Java development (both for spatial purposes). Thinking about migrating over to Ubuntu, is there anything I need to think about related to development? Any changes or major differences that will be stumbling blocks? Thanks... Jul 5, 2012 at 12:41
  • Java may be harder to get running initially, but just maybe. Eclipse works fine and there's a whole bunch of other editors and IDEs available. Probably no big deal, unless you're rooted into msvc or something like that. Jul 5, 2012 at 12:46
  • Here is my first dumb question, of many I am sure. I have gone to the UbuntuGIS page. I have to install the repositories. How is that done? Is that through Terminal? Is it like an apt get? Or do I need to physically add something to a file (ie: config file?) Jul 5, 2012 at 14:02
  • as with most things on linux, there are multiple ways of achieving that. I thought you may like the simplest best, but the linked user guide mentions other options like apt and manual editing. Jul 5, 2012 at 14:14
  • Great, thanks. I want a simple way, but its good to know some of the other options. Jul 5, 2012 at 14:18

First choose a distributions where you can find lots of help. Changing to an new OS is really hard transition. At the moment ubuntu seems to be the more user friendly.

Secondly learn your tools. eg. to install something on an debian system you just apt-get them.

eg for python:

sudo apt-get install python

for python's gdal binding:

 sudo apt-get install python-gdal

The system will take care of any prerequisites.


yes, most open source GIS products are available for Ubuntu and linux, try www.osgeo.org for a list of products or better yet try their live dvd which has a lot of them already installed in a linux machine which you can run from the DVD or from a virtual machine http://live.osgeo.org/ there are also other options out there as well

  • Thank you, I am aware of this. I am planning on installing SSGeo, specifically QGIS and PostGIS. What I am really interesed to know is about the packaging of the applications. I have found with Windows, you need to be updating and getting new versions of bindings. It also seems that the majority of the open source GIS tools are developed in Linux. So I am wondering how it compares to Windows, when it comes to mantaining software. Jul 5, 2012 at 12:17
  • I'm not really a Linux person so someone else might have a better answer, but I think I used the synaptic package manager recently and was impressed at how easy that was to update things, normally in Windows I just rip the old version out and install the new update, I have found that works better then trying to upgrade. But it improves with each update and using the package manager was almost like adobe flash where it pops up saying there is an upgrade available do you want to install? and you just click yes
    – Banger
    Jul 5, 2012 at 12:48

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