Wednesday, December 24, 2014

PostGIS predictions for the new year

One of the few times I get to do 'pure' GIS is around the Christmas break, after grant proposals, teaching, marking, reading, writing, and other activities finally wind down.  This holiday I've taken some time to explore the latest version of QGIS (version 2.6, 'Brighton').  There are no major changes to report, but I have come across a new OpenGeo plugin (by Boundless).  This promises true integration of PostGIS/Postgresql GIS databases and spatial querying with free and open-sourced GIS software.  It makes it really easy to do 'true' object-relational spatial/SQL queries from an 'easy to use' desktop interface.

This development will, I predict, start to see the eclipse of ESRI or even the toppling of the industry-leader from its hegemonic perch.  Preaching to the converted, perhaps, I think it is time to commit to QGIS.  While ESRI's ArcGIS suite of tools is nicely curated and can be demonstrated to have evolved from the very rigorous academic provenance of the Harvard Graphics Lab (including Dangermond, Chrisman, and others), QGIS will by pass the dinosaur in the new year, and race ahead to lead the pack into the future.  (Alongside doing GIS you'll often find me with Pixar movies playing in the background so that I have something to focus on when I look up from pondering spatial indices or maps).

I'm excited to report that, as director of Royal Holloway's new Geospatial and Visual Methods Lab, we are acquiring a full suite (19) of iMacs with QGIS and Google Earth Pro installations.  I believe this new lab will be 'on the ball' when it comes to cloud/server-side mapping and integration with mobile devices such as phones or GPS.  It will also be a 'traditional' GIS lab in the sense that the GVML will run desktop GIS tutorials for georeferencing, multiple data frames, database design, and LiDAR mapping.  We will have ESRI capabilities on the Windows side of these 'dual boot' machines, but the fact that these machines run slower in 'dual' mode gives a disincentive to do so (or put another way, it gives an incentive to use QGIS).

I believe GIS will become truly 'post', and that this is a good thing.  GIS may already be dead.  If so, then what we've moved into is a space of mapping that is becoming truly boundless, or at least unbound.  GIS 'unbound' is integrated, qualitative, mobile, distributed, geospatial, and web-oriented.  We still need the desktop to learn fundamentals of projection, framing, and joining but only as one site among many.  It is exciting to think about moving more into the field, about that 'opening of the field' that GIS can become, even as we realise that GIS itself sous rature, is ever-increasingly an 'absent-presence' in mapping worlds.

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