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Introduction To MapWindow GIS I – Shapefile Viewing



I’ve posted about MapWindow in earlier posts on Shape2Earth (a shapefile to KML converter), and on reprojecting shapefiles from one coordinate system to another. So I figured it was time to take a longer look at some of MapWindow’s GIS capabilities, since it’s one of the best open source shapefile viewers and editors out there, and has many other useful functions. In addition, GIS novices might find this series useful as a general introduction to GIS programs, since it covers some of the basic operations applicable to other GIS programs as well.

I’m also going to try an experiment with these posts on MapWindow. Maps are a visual medium, and GIS software is an active visual medium, and often a written post can’t describe them adequately, even with graphics. So I’m going to experiment with screencasts, videos of software in action, with descriptions by an inimitable narrator, me. Because I’m still getting up to speed, the first ones have some minor glitches and quirks, but future ones should look (and sound) a lot better. Let me know what you think of the screencast idea, and what I could be doing better.

For these first screencasts, the basic blogposts will only have a general verbal description of some of MapWindow’s functions, and the screencasts will fill in the details. There’s too much to cover in MapWindow in just one set of screencasts, so there will be at least three more sets of episodes coming up (though they should be shorter than this first 12-minute opus set).

The first screencasts will cover basic shapefile viewing operations in MapWindow, including:>

  • Opening a shapefile
  • Moving layers in the display stack
  • Zooming and panning
  • Changing generic shapefile display parameters
  • Changing display parameters for a shapefile based on attribute data
  • Setting dynamic extents for shapefile data

Oh, and before I forget, I make one huge mistake in the first video – I credit the University of Idaho for MapWindow, when it’s actually put out by Idaho State University. My bad -go Bengals!

Note: If a video doesn’t load up properly, try doing a page reload.

Part I

Part II

Part III



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2 Responses to “Introduction To MapWindow GIS I – Shapefile Viewing”


  1. 1 M. Hughes

    Hello. I’m using the MapWindow GIS software and am having a problem viewing a point file layer. I had to reproject the layer to match the coordinate system of my other layers, but though I can see all of my other layers I cannot see the point file layer. Any ideas why? I’ve moved the layers up and down through the legend to no avail. I’ve checked my file for corruption and that isn’t it either. I can preview the map only when in another layer, but when I preview while the point layer is selected, nothing shows in the preview. I have the feeling I’m either missing something, or something’s wrong. Any help you could give would be very much appreciated. Thank you!

  2. 2 Leszek Pawlowicz

    A few questions/suggestions:

    - Is the point layer visible if you load only that point shapefile in?
    - Is it visible if you open it (and the other layers) in another GIS program or viewer? Search this website for TatukGIS, an excellent viewer. Check also to make sure that it’s in the correct coordinate system.
    - Are you sure dynamic visibility is disabled for that point layer?
    - Is the point color set to one similar to the background color, so that they may not be visible (e.g. white on white)?
    - If you open the attribute table for that point layer, does it look normal?

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