GIS Programs

Category Primary Example Ohter programs
Commercial ArcGIS Global Mapper
Freeware/open source QGIS (with GRASS plugin) MICRODEM

For many people, GIS means ArcGIS like the Microsoft products mean word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation.  ESRI makes ArcGIS (historically there have been other products, like ArcView and ArcInfo, and components like ArcCatalog which have been coupled loosely or tightly integrated), and while ESRI once stood for something, it's now just ESRI.  Like Microsoft, ESRI has bought some standardization to the GIS arena, for example shapefiles, but has also championed proprietary formats like Geodatabases or zLAS which competes with the open standard LAZ for lidar data.

If you rely on open data formats, all the programs will produce very similar results for the most common GIS operations.  If you need specialized operations, your choices might be limited to whichever program can do what you need.  But with the common formats like shapefiles, Geotiffs, and LAS, you can take data into any of the programs, and export the results to any of the others.

This will focus on MICRODEM, because I think:

Once you understand the principles of data and GIS operations, you should be able to adapt to a different program.  Note that all the programs evolve, and knowing one today may not help in the next version, so you need flexibility.


GIS libraries and command line programs

Library Function Download Use in MICRODEM
GDAL Data format translation, subsets, merging    
PROJ4 Projections   MICRODEM does not use, only because we need the code to run on Android.

last revision 11/4/2017