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The Big List Of Free Basic GIS Programs – A Through H

The backlog of topics for this blog continues to grow beyond my ability to keep up with it, and current work demands make it unlikely I’ll be able to catch up soon (though I should still be able to put up new posts at about the same rate). So I thought I’d do a quick set of posts on various types of GIS software, including both those that I have looked at in some detail, as well as those that I’ve given either a cursory look, or none at all. Let me know which ones I’ve missed, and I’ll add them to the list (and put up a separate post on them if warranted). I welcome comments on any of these programs, especially those I haven’t really posted on yet; if the comment is long enough, I’ll put it up as a full guest post. And I’m likely to come back to some of these in greater detail in the future.

The first list is of basic GIS programs; I’m defining this term very vaguely to refer to GIS software that allows data creation, editing, analysis and/or export. I’m excluding digital globes like ArcGIS Explorer/Google Earth/Worldwind from this definition from now, especially since I have an earlier post listing these; I’m also leaving web-based apps off for now as well. I’ll skip GIS programs with a focus on a specific interest area unless they can be used in a more general sense. Geostatistical software, and image analysis software (aerial and satellite), will get their own lists, since there’s a lot of software available in both categories. Click on the program’s name to go to its website.


Type: Freeware (additional functionality available for purchase)

Platform: Windows

Last update: 2007

Personal experience: Minimal

I played around a bit with the older release (2004), and it had a nice shapefile editor and layout capabilities. The new version has apparently added a lot more functionality. Here’s the feature list (cut-and-paste from the website):

2004 Version (still available):

  • Supports ESRI Shapefile and MapInfo tables vector file formats
  • Supports MrSID, TIF and JPG raster file formats
  • Standard GIS functions such as pan, zoom and identify
  • Thematic mapping using interval and value themes
  • Feature labeling using label themes
  • Printing and plotting layout designer
  • Powerful charting wizard
  • Map legend allowing full control over layer order and symbolization
  • Basic geometry and attribute editing capability (Requires the Basic Editor plug-in, also included)
  • Attribute query builder
  • User defined map annotations, both text and shapes
  • Hyperlink other documents to map features
  • Powerful buffering tools
  • GPS (Requires the GPS plug-in)

Additions to 2007 version:

  • Real-time projection (both vector and raster)
  • Support for ECW raster layers
  • Support for JPEG 2000 layers
  • Support for PNG layers
  • Legend grouping – will support groups within groups
  • Dynamically show and hide whole or partial themes via legend
  • Edit multiple layers at the same time
  • No longer restricted to editing a single feature
  • Can modify attribute information in either identification window and attribute table
  • Incorporates a structure editor
  • Supports Undo/Redo
  • Can update X,Y attribute columns for point layers
  • Copy & Paste multiple attributes
  • Can dynamically add/remove fields while in edit mode
  • Sorting in attribute table
  • Reorder attribute column names
  • No longer restricted to a single attribute table
  • Enhanced calculation capabilities
  • Enhanced statistical evaluation
  • Multiple map support
  • Hotspots
  • Dockable components
  • Identification window shows differences between current and previously identified feature
  • Attribute data types are differentiated in attribute table & identification window
  • Built in script capability
  • Built in vector layer checker
  • Spatial index supports null geometries
  • Anti-alias support
  • Cropping of features to ensure that labels are visible when zoomed in
  • Managed spatial and attribute indexes
  • Enhanced database relates
  • Spatial Relate
  • Merge multiple layers into one
  • Halo effect for label themes
  • Integrate remote data with Web Mapping Service (WMS)


Type: Freeware

Platform: Windows

Last update: 2006? Updates unlikely

Personal experience: Minimal

DIVA is focused towards analysis of biodiversity and species distribution, but has enough general-purpose functionality to belong here. Lots of documentation and tutorials, plus additional downloadable data.

Feature list:

  • Grid manipulation (calculator, aggregate, neighborhoods)
  • Point to grid/polygon/point analysis
  • Projection of lat/lon data
  • Analysis of molecular data
  • Export/import of grid and shapefile data
  • Spatial autocorrelation
  • Histograms and scattergrams of gridfiles
  • Visualization of satellite images
  • Multiple regression with grids
  • Import data from GPS (as points, lines, or polygons)
  • Climate envelope modeling
  • Prediction of crop adaptation (Ecocrop)
  • Draw Shapefiles
  • Polygons to grid transformation
  • … and even more
  • DIVA (uDIG)

    Type: Freeware; open-source

    Platform: Windows,Linux

    Last update: 2007

    Personal experience: None

    A migration of the capabilities of the original DIVA (Windows only) to multi-platform, using uDIG as the basic framework.

    Forestry GIS (fGIS)

    Type: Freeware

    Platform: Windows

    Last update: 2005; further updates unlikely

    Personal experience: Medium

    Developed by the Wisconsin DNR using the TatukGIS Developer Kernel, this was released publicly and updated through 2005, when changes in the license made public distribution impossible without royalty payments. Too bad – even two years later, it’s a decent freeware GIS, and certainly would have been a lot better by now.

  • Open and view geo-referenced raster images including digital orthophotos and topographic maps in MrSID®, ECW, BIL, ADF, JPG, TIFF, GeoTIFF, BMP, IMG, JPEG2000, PNG and SDTS file formats.
  • Open and view vector data in ESRI® shapefile (SHP) and e00 files, AutoCAD DXF™, MapInfo® MIF, Microstation® DGN, DLG-O, TIGER2000/line, GML/XML, SDTS and TatukGIS SQL (ttkls) file formats. An advanced R-Tree index system allows easy viewing of large (100+ MB) data files.
  • Create and edit point, line and area shapefile objects and their associated data attribute tables. fGIS also edits and writes MIF, DXF, DLG & GML vector layers.
  • Buffer point, line or area objects at any designated radius or width.
  • Generate Cruise Points. Select an area object and fill it with either a random or ordered grid.
  • Design maps with pre-defined layer symbology, or use advanced layer properties to define your own.
  • Copy and paste shapefile objects from one layer to another.
  • Designate the direction and distance of the next leg of a line or polygon with the COGO-like Traverse Tool. Directions can be entered in decimal degrees or degrees-minutes-seconds (handy for plotting deeds or laying out a field data collection route).
  • Split a polygon or line (including GPS tracks) into separate units by drawing a line with the Split Shapes Tool.
  • Clip Shapefiles to the boundaries of a polygon layer.
  • Merge multiple shapefiles into a new one.
  • Customize map properties including line width and color, area fills, label fonts and positions, image transparency, thematic rendering of data and more.
  • Measure areas and distances. fGIS reports distances and areas in English units (feet, miles and acres) and metric units. Area and perimeter measurement fields can be added to data tables and updated automatically.
  • Display data at user-specified scales.
  • View maps in 3D.
  • Map live GPS positions from any connected GPS unit with NMEA output (beta).
  • Extract geo-referenced images of selected portions of a screen display.
  • Export part of a vector layer and save it as a new file.
  • Manage large data sets organized in dBase tables with the “Load Library Layer” utility.
  • Join dBase and Access tables to shapefile attribute tables.
  • Create point shapefiles from comma delimited text files with x|y coordinates.
  • Convert Geographic WGS84 coordinate shapefiles to and from worldwide UTM zones and Wisconsin Transverse Mercator.
  • Print the map with three flexible output options. The Simple Print command will add a map title, subtitle, footer and the scale to the page. The Send Map to Word command will send an image of the view at a user specified resolution and scale to Microsoft® Word. A third option through the Export Image tool will send the map to a technical illustration/page layout module called Diagram Designer. You can add headers, legends, annotations and non-spatial symbols from template palettes in the Diagram Designer module.
  • Save WMF files for use in publishing programs.
  • GRASS, JGrass

    Type: Freeware, open-source

    Platform: Windows (Cygwin and native), Linux, Macintosh

    Last update: 2008

    Personal experience: Minimal

    GRASS is an extremely powerful GIS, but with a fairly painful interface, command-line oriented; mainly grid-oriented, but does also have vector capabilities. JGrass is multi-platform Java-based version of GRASS, currently oriented towards hydrological and geomorphological analyses; it’s currently being melded with uDIG to incorporate its vector capabilities. Quantum GIS is also incorporating some GRASS functionality into its current releases.


    Type: Freeware, open-source

    Platform: Windows, Linux, Macintosh

    Last update: 2008

    Personal experience: Minimal

    Based originally on the JUMP platform, but has moved far past it; great vector-editing capabilities. This is supposedly getting a lot of financial support from the European community, particularly from its host country, Spain. A free GIS to watch.


    Type: Freeware

    Platform: Windows, Linux

    Last update: 2004?

    Personal experience: None

    A GIS for “estimation and analysis of hydrological, climatic and geomorphological variables”.

  • Display of maps in raster and vectorial formats.
  • Tools of processing and analysis of Digital Terrain Models (DTM).
  • Automatic extraction of drainage networks and river basins.
  • Tools for geomorphological analysis of river networks.
  • Topologic and Geometric Width Function of river networks.
  • Horton Analysis of river networks.
  • Generalized Horton Analysis (Simple scaling of network properties).
  • Network links analysis (Length, area, slope, etc) including xy-plots for link properties (e.g. Hack’s Law).
  • Rainfall- Runoff Model : Distributed Hydrological tank model that works with rainfall time series, for making estimations of discharge in any point of the basin.
  • Land-stability model : Works in conjunction with the rainfall-runoff model. It computes security factors in the hillslope, after a storm event.
  • Water quality model : Computes pollution transport along a river network ( One Dimensional Transport Equation) .
  • Hydrological balances, estimation of maximum discharges and minimum discharges in river basins from maps of climatic variables.
  • Erosion in river basins.
  • Extraction of terrain and river profiles.
  • HidroSIG is able to store time series of any variable in a MySQL database.(e.g. Climatic stations)
  • For the study of the statistical properties time series, HidroSIG has a module called ANSET that makes Homogeneity tests for time series. It also detects outliers by different methods..
  • Search for information of hydro climatic stations using SQL queries .Display of information of hydro climatic stations.
  • Map´s histograms.
  • Modification of raster maps.
  • Tools for creation of vectorial files.
  • Conversion from vectorial maps to raster maps.
  • Three-dimensional display of maps.
  • Map´s calculator.
  • Interpolation of raster maps.
  • Import of raster maps from formats:
    Arcview ASCII
    Nasa SRTM
    Idrisi (r)
    Surfer GRID (Ascii)
  • Import of vectorial maps in AutoCAD DXF format .
  • Import of vectorial maps ESRI Shapefile format.
  • Export of raster maps in format ArcView ASCII.
  • Module of remote sensors for classification of Landsat and spot images.
  • Architecture Client/server of the Information.
  • Connection to a remote database.
  • Customized Colors palette.
  • Multilanguage (Spanish/English).
  • 100% made in JAVA.

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    5 Responses to “The Big List Of Free Basic GIS Programs – A Through H”

    1. 1 Jason Birch

      There’s also FDO2FDO, a free application that uses FDO Open Source to allow data transfers and filtering between different formats.

      And if you’re looking for other items, and don’t mind sifting through marginal software, the canonical website is a great place to hunt down those specific-purpose gems.

    2. 2 Miguel Vera

      Browsing through my old bookmarks I found the AGIS page ( I haven’t tried it out, it seems pretty basic, though the screenshots and applications show some kind of advanced functionality.

    3. 3 Leszek Pawlowicz

      Thanks for the tip, Jason – I’ll check it out.

    4. 4 Leszek Pawlowicz

      Thanks for the comment, Miguel. I’m not sure, but it looks like it’s not free, but costs $49 for the full version. I’ve downloaded it, and will see whether the free unregistered version has any worthwhile functionality.

    1. 1 The Big List Of Satellite/Aerial Imagery Analysis Software – A Through H | Free Geography Tools
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