We all have seen beatiful (imo) maps produced by Google and Microsoft. There are many others; some of them are of global use (such as MapQuest, TomTom or HERE), and some are just of country scale.

I assume that these companies have obtained/collected/bought raw vector data and then have used a GIS software package and some custom cartography workflows to produce maps with good symbology/layout and then cached them into multiple tiles.

Rasterizing vectors into tiles is not that particularly interesting, but I was often wondering what kind of Desktop GIS software have those large companies used to make those maps? Esri, for instance, uses ArcGIS platform for making the Esri basemaps such as Esri World Street Map.

What desktop GIS software do Google and Microsoft use for creating maps? I am curious about that because I want to know what other GIS packages apart from Esri ArcGIS are capable of doing this work on such a large scale.

  • As it stands I think this question is too broad because it is effectively asking the same question for each of 5 (or more) web map sites. I recommend that you focus it down to the one that you most want to know about and then research/ask about the others separately.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 8:16
  • You are probably right. I have specified just two - Google and MS. Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 8:46
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    For their specialized needs a consumer-oriented desktop GIS package wouldn't cut it, and when you have large budgets and software development expertise it is likely much more effective to write your own software.
    – blah238
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 9:11
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    @whuber, I completely understand what you mean, but thought it might be interesting for others too to figure out how web mapping sites are actually produced. There are dozens of top questions that do not address any specific problem that needs to be solved: gis.stackexchange.com/questions?sort=votes. I have updated my question to make it sound more problem oriented, hope it looks better now! Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 15:28
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    I think the question is relevant because although the average GIS practicioner might never actually work on a worldwide web mapping system like Google Maps, they will undoubtedly be faced with questions like "why can't you just make it like Google Maps?" Being armed with some knowledge of what actually goes into creating such a product helps to manage expectations from customers who make unreasonable demands :)
    – blah238
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 18:42

2 Answers 2


Google use a self-developed tool called Atlas to maintain geodata.

In this video from Google I/O 2013 you see how Atlas works (Atlas starts at 7:30 - but it is interesting to see the whole video).


You didn't specifically ask about any open source tools or data in your original post, but OpenStreetMap has a global web map that is as good as the ones from Google or Bing. Because it is open source, there are lots of great resources explaining how they manage their data and render their map.

If you want to create a worldwide map like Google or Bing, you can use OpenStreetMap data and their open source tools to do it. You'd store your data in PostgreSQL/PostGIS, render map tiles using Mapnik, and serve those map tiles on the web using something like Apache and mod_tile. Any web page that wanted to include your map could do it with OpenLayers or Leaflet (which take the place of something like Google Maps API).

Switch2OSM has some good instructions for how you would go about setting up your own global map.

  • LOVE that you added osm.
    – albert
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 23:35

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