Yes, it’s true – you can get a fully-functional version of ESRI’s ArcGIS 9.2 for free, along with many of the extensions (3D Analyst, GeoStatistical Analyst, Survey Analyst, and more). The base version of ArcGIS costs about $1500, and extensions can run $1500 apiece. You can also get a fully functional version of ArcPad, ESRI’s mobile data acquisition and mapping GIS program for handheld GPS units that run Windows Mobile or Windows CE.
Of course there’s a catch – several in fact. For the evaluation version of ArcGIS:
- This is a 60-day demo version only. It’s fully-functional, but stops working at the end of that time, and uninstalling/reinstalling the software won’t extend the evaluation period.
- You only get a single evaluation license number with each copy; installing it on a different computer won’t re-start the evaluation process.
- You can’t install it on a computer that already has a licensed copy of an earlier version of ArcGIS. Different versions of ArcGIS don’t play together well on the same computer.
- Finally, if you’re not familiar with the basics of ArcGIS, it’s probably not worth your time to request a copy and install it on your computer. ArcGIS and its extensions are a handful to learn and use, and it’s too hard to learn the program with just the software itself, especially in just 60 days. For that purpose, you would probably be better off with a book like GIS Tutorial: Workbook for ArcView 9.0 (GIS Tutorial series), which includes not just learning material, but also a copy of ArcView 9.0 good for 180 days. Or, if you’re a fast learner, along with the evaluation version you could get a copy of an ArcGIS learning textbook like one of the following:
- Getting to Know ArcGIS Desktop: The Basics of ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo Updated for ArcGIS 9 (Getting to Know series)
For the evaluation version of ArcPad, the limitation is more basic: the program is fully functional, and doesn’t expire, but times out every 20 minutes. For many field data acquisition applications this might not be acceptable, but for those where data takes only a few minutes to acquire, you might be able to live with that 20-minute time limit indefinitely. At the very least, the evaluation version will give you all the time to learn the ins and outs of the software, and determine whether it meets your needs. If not, I’ll be covering a freeware PDA-based field data acquisition system in the future.
Edited to correct “ArcGIS 7.2” to “ArcGIS 9.2”; even free, 7.2 wouldn’t be worth it. Thanks, James!