Top Ten Myths

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This page has notes for a future GeoConnexions column about the "top ten myths about open source software for geo and gis".

The following are the responses I got from a post to the discuss list. (note that replies sent directly to me and the the whole list are attributed to anonymous)

  • Mis-understanding of how complementary open source and proprietary technology can be (anon)
  • How pervasive open source geospatial technology is in our industry already, in particular within Proprietary systems (anon)
  • It doesn't scale as well. (Doug Newcomb)
  • No commercial support (Doug Newcomb)
  • Free software is of poor quality. (In other words: Free software must be like other "free" stuff. There is a catch, or there is a reason people want to get rid of it.) (Landon Blake)
  • Free software comes with legal liability. (In other words: My company can't release its own software under an open source license, because we could get sued by the people that use it.) (Landon Blake)
  • Geo Open Source Myth #1: ESRI is the only company that makes GIS software. :] (Landon Blake)
  • (not a myth but a question/statements I was confronted with) "what can I do with this data?" I think some people are not familiar with the freedom of free geodata. (Lars Lingner)
  • (not a myth but a question/statements I was confronted with) "Quality has to cost something" Some people don't want to talk with you, if you mention datasets are free. But that're probably these ones who never heard about FOSS (Lars Lingner)
  • (not a myth but a question/statements I was confronted with) "What benefits do I have if I contribute?" Even if they are using FOSS they still ask what the get back if the share documentation, patches etc. (Lars Lingner)
  • Who/what isgoing to support it? (Bob Basques)
  • How does it fit in with Best practices? (Bob Basques)
  • If there is support, how do we contract for it? (Bob Basques)
  • Besides price, what else does it do for me (or our org)? (Bob Basques)
  • One that nags progress of OS GIS in developing world: While evangelising for OSGeo India, young students of Geoinformatics often ask me, "What are the job prospects pursuing Open GIS ? ". If you can, prepare a list of companies that offer jobs, and seek expertise in Open GIS. I wish the Catch22 situation in the developing world can be overcome soon. (Ravi Kumar)
  • you have to give your changes back, you need to release all your own source code (anon)
  • you need a lawyer to make sure you get the legal paperworks right (anon)
  • it is hard to find programmers because they want to have regular products on their resumes (anon)
  • open source is only about source code -- think also about create commons, free data, etc (anon)
  • students don't want it, because they need to use the tools they will use when they graduate and get jobs (esri) (anon)

And some non-myths... :-)

  • "high quality cartography output is common" (Brent Fraser)
  • "security for OGC protocols is easy to implement" (Brent Fraser)

And commentary by Frank Warmerdam:

I hope you will include some of the myths that are not specific to geospatial FOSS, but with answers/explanations focused more on open source.

So for instance, when addressing a concern like "there is no support", you could name support companies that provide support in the geospatial space.

I would like to suggest:

"foss4g products don't support my existing proprietary data" to which the answer will hopefully be that FOSS4G packages have quite extensive support for different data formats, including important undocumented proprietary file formats, but that there are some limitations so investigate with regard to your own data.

Another common one in general is "open source is just for that geeky linux operating system, I want to use windows!" to which the response will hopefully reference some particular windows packaging efforts like OSGeo4W as well as indicating that most projects do offer binaries for windows. I often try to make the point that OSGeo and FOSS4G is available for many operating systems, and that using open source GIS software does not mean pushing linux down peoples throats.

A variation on this is "you need to be a software developer to use open source" to which the response is also reference to the various convenient pre-built binaries for various platforms.

and James Fee notes:

This is the biggest issue I find myself needing to "educate" potential users of open source solutions. Many open source server projects are much easier to install than their proprietary counterparts.

Some additional commentary from Eduardo Kanegae:

In 2008 I worked on a project all based on ESRI 9.2 family. At that point I didn´t know much of ESRI products and had only worked with foss products. Now I feel more confortable to give an opinion for that:

  • myth monopoly : every only remember the (supposed) 30% esri market share. Remember there´s also very nice commercial products like Safe FME, CadCorp, ManiFold, PCI, ERDAS, ENVI and others ( and sometimes most of these are embed on ESRI packs - eg.: raster support on AG family )
  • sustainability : while every major release of ESRI will force you to re-develop your customizations, FOSS products keep release more compatible. Example: a MapServer 3.x developer will use the same principles and concepts on MapServer 5.x version. But, an ArcIMS developer had to change its base when upgrading to ArcGIS Server 9.1, recode for adapting to ArcGIS Server 9.2 API´s and now all this concepts will change again with 9.3 version.
  • maintenance : foss product will run more closer to open standards (eg.: OGC´s ). So, you change foss parts without re-coding your entire solution. The cost of training a new human resource on insert/update/delete geo-feature using ArcObjects/ArcSDE is so much higher when compared to OGC-SFS, per example.