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I am experienced with GIS, but new to QGIS and open source data.

I recently opened an OpenStreetMap (osm) file in QGIS 1.8 (on Kubuntu 12.04). I found that when I selected a feature, there was no colour change to highlight it. I know it was selected because a "zoom to" took me straight back there.

When converted to a shapefile the selection feature highlighted as I would expect.

Is this a bug in handling osm files, or is it something to do with the structure of osm that I haven't understood?

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The OpenStreetMap plugin in QuantumGis 1.8 is buggy. The normal select and identify tool donot work. You need the identify tools that comes with the plugin to highlight and get information of the feature. You can use QuantumGIS 1.9 it has not been officially released yet. but you can get it from http://qgis.org/downloads/weekly/. You will find openstreetmap option in vector menu.

UPDATE:

QGIS 2.0 has been released.

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