When I have geographic data to be displayed, I usually use a plotting library to visualise the data, for example, combining matplotlib and basemap, or using the Matlab Mapping toolbox. For example, I have data gridded on a lat - lon grid, and to get them on a map, all I need is a projection and a bit of background map data (usually only coastlines). I am quite satisfied with the results of my visualisation. What does a full-fledged GIS package add that I'm currently missing?

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According to Wikipedia:

Geographic information system (GIS) is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data.

As for whether you're missing anything, that would depend on your use cases. If all you need to do is visualize geographic data then you're not really missing anything. Though you might want to add TileMill to your visualization toolkit. Makes for some pretty maps ;-) A GIS would just be overkill for plain visualization work.

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If you're going to do spatial analysis though, then go for the GIS packages. Unless of course, implementing spatial analysis algorithms are your thing.

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