Program Capabilities, Fall 2013 with minimal updates since

Program Free Open Source Geotiff Shapefile LAS Multiple Open Maps (1) Geographic DEM (2) Reproject on Fly (3) Extended DEM Display (4) Raster Geomorphometry Notes
ESRI ArcGIS N N Y Y Y N N Y N Extensive  
qGIS Y Y Y Y With effort N N N N Limited: Slope, aspect, hillshade, relief, ruggedness (via Terrain Analysis plugin)  
GRASS (via qGIS plugin) Y Y Read, write fails Y Cmd line (?) N N N N Extensive  
ILWIS Y Y Y Y N Y N N N Limited: hillshade  
SAGA Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N Very extensive  
MICRODEM Y N Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Very extensive  
Whitebox (formerly TAS) Y N Read, no write Y Y Not visible same time N N N Very extensive Java
Landserf Y N N   N N N N N Extensive Java problems, may be broken
No access to home page
Landlord N N                 Only available as coauthor of paper


  1. Multiple open maps: there can be advantages to having two maps side by side, with options to automatically adjust scaling and extent, and coloring options, and to show the position of one cursor on the other map.  Transparency of stacked layers can only partially compensate, as can swiping to change the layer displayed.
  2. Geographic DEM: correctly scale a geographic DEM in default map display, and correctly adjust arc second spacing to meters for computation of parameters.
  3. Reproject on the fly.  Some programs require that all layers on the map share the same projection.  Those that can do this remove the step of having to reproject data, which saves time and disk space, and avoids the inevitable errors that come with reprojecting rasters.
  4. Extended DEM Display.  Display hillshades, slope, and aspect maps on the fly, without creating and storing a new grid.

Last revised 4/28/2016