Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Free GIS Tools – Google Map

It is not always practical or possible to use high end GIS software for specific tasks so free alternatives can be very handy. Not to mention that very often expensive commercial software can be cumbersome to use and produce dubious results (or not at all! – the supplier will remain nameless…). Good things can come for free.

Over the years I have collected a number of handy and free tools. I would like to share the list with you, starting with… Google Map API. I know, a lot has been written about it already but still not many professionals consider Google Map as a serious contender to “online GIS status”, and hence dismiss it outright as just a fancy toy, or even treat it as a GIS impostor. So, here are a few points why I believe it is a very powerful tool you cannot ignore. Just consider this:

  • Enormous throughput capacity - to deploy and maintain on your own a custom online mapping system with equivalent capacity would cost you a fortune.
  • Ready to use maps and imagery - the whole world of it, which would be prohibitively costly to replicate even if you are focusing only on a relatively small patch of land.
  • Comes with 2D as well as 3D view option that works on many browsers - I can’t name any commercial software that can do that…
  • Comes in 4 different flavours: Javascript (v2 and v3), Flash, Static Map and Mapplet – which gives you a lot of flexibility in choosing the right platform for your project.
  • Works online as well as on mobile devices (with access to the internet) – a single development platform for two separate access channels, just think about cost savings!
  • Bundled with handy web services: geocoder, reverse geocoder, elevation data service, data parser (txt, xml, kml, kmz, geoRSS), Street View panoramas, traffic, driving directions, local search, Wikipedia points of interests, videos and picture overlays, charts, spreadsheets and on-map advertising, if required.
  • Easy to integrate with any data: as images via Web Map Service or kml/kmz, or vectors and point data via Web Feature Service, xml, txt, kml, geoRSS or JSON.
  • Easy to extend with free custom libraries: drag’n’zoom, marker manager, marker labeller, drawing tools, etc. as well as your own code.
  • Easy to integrate with any website – as long as it is freely accessible.

There are many more exciting features that could be included but I think the above is a pretty impressive list of capabilities that will be hard to match by any other commercially available software. If your project involves deploying a public access mapping application that has to be build from scratch, you can’t go wrong with Google Map!

Related posts:
Google introduces Aerial View
Live traffic on Google Map Australia
Manual geocoder for 70 countries
Google Map Static goes V2
Ingenuity of Google Map architecture

No comments: