I'm wanting to get into open source GIS, and it looks like PostGIS on PostgreSQL is a good DBMS to go with, and there are plenty of posts on desktop editors. What I haven't come across (and forgive me if I just didn't find it) is info on what open source operating systems folks are using with open source GIS. Ubuntu, some other form of Linux, etc.


4 Answers 4


I use Ubuntu 10.04 for several reasons:

  1. Open source tools command-line tools (e.g. ogr2ogr or pgsql2shp) are much more pleasant to run from almost any linux than from Windows. Not only is something like gnome-terminal a lot more usable than cmd.exe, but I find that being able to trivially run a few bash commands gives a nice productivity boost for one off tasks for which writing a dedicated python script unworthwhile.
  2. The awesome Ubuntu GIS repository makes it really easy to install and keep updated with open source GIS software. Anyone installing an open source GIS stack on Windows will appreciate this.

The only major downside I've personally encountered is that ArcGIS doesn't run on Linux. Thus, for any workflow involving ArcGIS a Windows install is required.


Most of the major open-source GIS software is compatible in any of the big three (Windows, OS X, Linux). I'd start with trying some of the software out in whatever operating system you're already familiar with, GIS will provide enough challenges without you being flummoxed when navigating your filesystem. Compiling GIS software from source is a challenge on any OS, because of the large number of dependencies (particularly for GDAL) and circular dependencies, so I'd start with binary management.

To get started, I'd recommend the following installations:

  • Windows: OSGeo4W, which provides a batch install and shell for accessing a significant number of open source GIS packages.
  • OS X: Kyng Chaos's Frameworks provide many of the common GIS packages.
  • Linux: apt-get will do the trick. Ubuntu has the advantage of many existing GIS users, making it easier to track down problems.

If you do get deeper into the development world, then I'd say the open source C/C++/Python projects are much easier to manage from Linux, and anything C#/.NET is much easier from Windows. Most FOSS GIS software falls into the former category.

As others have stated, Ubuntu is a great choice once you've decided to dive in, with all the features fmark mentioned. I use it as my primary OS with a Windows VirtualBox instance for the occasional ArcGIS session.


If you are just looking to get started with open source GIS then you probably don't need to worry about operating system. I can't think of any major programs that won't run on all the major operating systems.

Once you get into advanced work then you might benefit from using a Linux distro but not while starting. So I'd recommend sticking with what you know and concentrating on the GIS aspects.

Obviously if you want to use ESRI products too then you are limited to 32bit windows boxes with only one core.


While Ubuntu is good for desktop use you will find that there is better support for CentOS(/RHEL) as a server.

From a GIS point of view there is not much difference. RHEL has better manufacturer support so programs for management, backup, drivers (, integration with windows networks) are generally easier to install

Eg. If you buy a Dell or HP server all the management, etc. is packaged for redhat. The most common backup systems all offer packages for redhat. Installing these on other versions of linux is possible but more work. The GIS programs are available in similar packages through Yum on Centos however often you are going to want to install the latest version which will be newer than the one in apt or yum.


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