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GIS-Oriented Linux Distributions

Frank over at wants to know where the GIS-oriented Linux distributions are. Well, here are three four:

GIS-Knoppix: A GIS-oriented version of the bootable Knoppix Linux distribution, but can be installed on your computer as well. Has GRASS, OpenJump, qGIS, MapServer, Thuban, and a bunch more.

Host-GIS: A Linux distribution designed around MapServer; comes with example installations and data.

Archeos: An archaeology-oriented Linux distribution, but with lots of GIS applications as well (GRASS, MapServer, OpenJump, SAGA, etc.). But good luck downloading a copy of this – not only is it over 1 GB in size (a DVD ISO file), but if my browser doesn’t crash when I try to download it, I get a 404 error page.\

Arch Linux (AEGIS): Mentioned in the comments; GRASS, JUMP, qGIS, MapServer and a bunch more.

I install a copy of Linux on my computer every few years, then take it off – doesn’t offer enough value for the time it takes to install, configure and learn it. I may give Wubi a try, since it seems to simplify the installation process for Ubuntu in Windows, and I’m waiting to see what happens with LINA, a project to make Linux software runnable on Windows and Macintosh with a native OS look-and-feel.

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11 Responses to “GIS-Oriented Linux Distributions”

  1. 1 Matt Croydon

    There is also a GIS repository for Arch Linux at AEGIS. It includes several packages including PostGIS and GRASS, among others.

  2. 2 KoS

    The link for GIS_Knoppix is broken. fyi


  3. 3 Leszek Pawlowicz

    Sorry! Link is fixed.

  4. 4 Beau

    >>I install a copy of Linux on my computer every few years, then take it off – doesn’t offer enough value >>for the time it takes to install, configure and learn it

    If you’re looking for a good & easy linux transition, try Kubuntu (KDE Ubuntu) and install Automatix ( after install. Only ArcINFO keeps me form converting all of my boxes to Linux.


  5. 5 Leszek Pawlowicz

    Last time I installed Ubuntu, I used Automatix, and it cheerfully modified the GRUB list to remove the option to boot to Windows. Fortunately, I had backed up that beforehand, and was able to restore it successfully. I’m sure they thought that was quite amusing, but I’m guessing there’s a bunch of people who installed Ubuntu, tried Automatix, didn’t know how to get the Windows boot option back, and probably wrote off trying Linux again.

    I’m a quasi-geek from a long time ago, but Linux is still too geeky for me.

  6. 6 Jules

    You should use the command line wget or something similar to get these big files. They will resume a download and are, in any case, rather more reliable than a browser which is not designed for large downloads.

  7. 7 alan dobbins

    How can you say that GNU/Linux is “too geeky”, esp. in this day and age of GUI installation front-ends and n00b-friendly distros like Mandriva and OpenSUSE, Ubuntu and the like? That is seriously scary coming from people who evidently like to “geek” around with GIS and other data and software packages! Guess it is whatever you are raised on, and it seems like Windows has made you all lazy.

    Anyway, thanks for the links. Will come in handy, methinks.

  8. 8 Leszek Pawlowicz

    Thanks for your comments. This blog/journal/whatever is written more for people interested in the end products of geographic-related work, and who aren’t interested in getting involved in the guts of the OS. IMO, using Linux effectively requires fiddling with the guts, and most of the people I work with have no interest in that. Hell, I have difficulty getting up enthusiasm for that, and I’ve been working with computers for over 30 years now (80-column and 96-column punch cards!). Twenty years ago, I probably would have, but now it’s too much of a pain, especially since there’s nothing I absolutely need Linux for. If you need it, that’s another story, obviously.

    Every few years, after reading a story about how a Linux like Ubuntu is finally easy to use for a newbie, I try installing it again, and then discover that performing a really basic task requires you to fire up the terminal, log on as a superuser, then twiddle with an obscure config file in the hopes that will solve the problem. Or I try to do something elementary, and discover that Ubuntu can’t do that. For example, last time I tried Ubuntu (7.10), I wanted to run it in a stand-alone box with no monitor, using VNC to see what was going on. I then discovered that if there’s no monitor, you can’t set the screen resolution higher than 1024×768; how brain-dead is that?! Too much work for not enough return, at least for what I do.

    Linux fans have been saying for years now that it was poised to supplant Windows on the desktop, and yet that whole time it’s been stuck at about 2% of installations. I think that part of the problem is that determinations of usability and user-friendliness are being made by regular Linux users, people who are familiar and comfortable with its quirks and the command-line, rather than by ordinary computer users. For that matter, some Linux people (like Linus Torvalds) get cranky about attempts to make Linux more friendly for newbies, telling people to use KDE because Gnome tries too hard to make life easy for the newbie.

    As I see it now, there are two desktop uses for Linux that make sense:

    – Creating a bullet-proof, crash-proof workstation where all the applications are fixed, and the user can’t change anything

    – For the uber-geek who’s willing to get into the guts of Linux, learn the command line in all its glory, and continuously tweek, optimize and extend the installation

    If Linux works for you, that’s great – I’m personally very happy that Linux powers so much of the Internet rather than Windows. For the ordinary user, though, I’d still recommend Windows, warts and all. I actually wish I could recommend Macs over Windows, but the geographic software base (free and paid) just isn’t big enough on the Macs to make it a viable choice.

  9. 9 rajula adimo michael

    hi guys. Am a regular user of Windows and I have an urge to make a switch to Linux. Am not sure which one to use between Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Fedora.I am new to this Linux OS. I am also concerned about its user friendliness and how long it might take me to get acquinted. I use GIS software ie ArcGIS 9.2. I am particularly tired of the viruses and worms on my PC. Any recommendation and advise please! Even manuals to start or step by step instructions on what I need to know? Any assistance will be appreciated

  10. 10 Leszek Pawlowicz

    Ubuntu is usually considered to be the most “newbie-friendly” Linux distribution. The install CD is also a “live” CD, meaning that if you boot from the CD, you’ll be able to run Linux on your computer without installing it.

    If you have a fairly recent computer, and a decent amount of RAM, another option is Andlinux (, which installs a fully-functional version of Linux that runs simultaneously with Windows.

    The people who say that it’s easy to switch from Windows to Linux are those who are so familiar with Linux and its quirks, they’ve forgotten how difficult and unfamiliar a lot of this stuff is for those who aren’t continuously immersed in it, and who don’t actually enjoy learning this stuff. So be prepared for a significant learning curve, and don’t expect Linux to be a panacea for Windows’ problems.

  11. 11 Westy VW

    I agree with Leszek that Ubuntu may be the most common now, but many people like Debian, Mepis, and I have seen many GIS folks using Fedora. DO use the forums and IRC for help if you get stuck. I too use ArcGIS 9.2 and I am so fed up with it.

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