Generally speaking, if there is one place proprietary GIS software excels at it is on the desktop. ArcGIS for Desktop, MapInfo, Intergraph and others have created a huge market for their software which retails for a relatively high cost. Server might be up for grabs, but the desktop is the domain of proprietary software.
Now that isn’t to say that there aren’t good open source desktop choices. QGIS, gvSIG and others have a very vibrant community that wants them to succeed. But I don’t think there is any question that the desktop GIS market is dominated by Esri and others. That’s why I think this news from OpenGeo is very interesting:
We’re happy to announce that we’re investing in the QGIS community to help make this amazing open source project even more successful.
QGIS is the most widely available open source GIS tool with a proven track record and a vibrant community and plugin ecosystem. It’s nothing short of amazing how this community has achieved feature parity, stability, and ease of use relative to proprietary desktop solutions. It offers a truly open alternative that lowers barriers to entry and total cost of ownership, has no license fees, and runs on the operating system of your choice. Not only are we impressed, but we feel it fits perfectly with our mission of extending geospatial open source software to every corner of the world.
Right? Totally makes sense. Esri has for years shown that there is a symbiotic relationship between desktop software and the server. MapBox has linked TileMill and MapBox together to give people an authoring tool that has shown great promise. OpenGeo highlighted three areas they see where they can help improve QGIS. Documentation, integration with the OpenGeo Suite (GeoServer/PostGIS/etc) and GeoGit. It’s a nice simple starting point to improve QGIS and make it much more competitive with Esri. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used QGIS on my MacBook Pro for years, but this office I’m sitting in today has tons of ArcGIS Desktops around and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So I’m optimistic this can help grow QGIS and make it more of a desktop GIS product that can be deployed in enterprise environments. Competition is what makes great software and if QGIS can embrace new user interface ideas and formats, we’ll see pressure on proprietary vendors to improve as well. I’m always glad to see innovation on the desktop side of GIS and it could be a great year with ArcGIS Pro (or whatever they are calling it) arriving.