Why OpenLayers 3.0?

OpenLayersOpenLayers recently launched a crowd-funding campaign for their 3.0 release. I want to share a bit about why OpenLayers is important to me, and why OpenGeo has supported OpenLayers and will continue to invest in it. If you’re interested in helping, visit the OpenLayers 3.0 campaign for more information and ways to support.

When OpenLayers arrived six years ago it was a revelation; it took the awesome tile-based AJAX-ified magic of Google Maps and made it available to the entire geospatial world. The community was active and growing fast; they were rolling out new formats and innovations daily. Back then, OpenLayers truly pushed the limits of what was possible in the browser, establishing a new standard for the geospatial world.

In the past six years OpenLayers has matured into the most widely used geospatial JavaScript library, but the toolkit has begun to show its age. The wider JavaScript world has pioneered new techniques expanding the limits of browsers and younger front-end mapping libraries have been taking advantage of these innovations. On the other hand, OpenLayers has accumulated some quirks which stem from the desire to keep everything backwards compatible, never breaking old applications. Keeping the code of a maturing library backwards-compatible is a great asset for its existing users, but it makes things difficult for newer ones. It’s time to give OpenLayers the overhaul it needs to take take advantage of new JavaScript technology

In the open source world one thing is for certain, communities (developers and users) benefit when there is a bit of ‘competition’. Looking at the three largest communities OpenGeo participates in – GeoServer, OpenLayers and PostGIS – GeoServer has been the most consistent innovator. The big difference is that GeoServer is always being pushed by the MapServer developers. Both projects benefit by having the other so close by. This allows them to try out different techniques and go after different features, and then react to others choices. In fact, we still recommend MapServer to some of our clients because it’s often the best tool for the job.

At OpenGeo we believe in offering the best of breed components to our clients, and backing them with stellar commercial support.  Now, after being faced with the choice of continuing to invest in OpenLayers, or backing one of the newer libraries we remain committed to OpenLayers. We know that this is not only an opportunity to match the other web mapping libraries, but to take a step ahead and explore the future. We’re excited about OpenLayers using new technologies. Here’s some highlights of what you can expect:

  • WebGL promises to bring 3D capabilities and increased performance for all mapping needs to the latest browsers. OpenLayers 3.0 will offer WebGL, while degrading nicely in less capable browsers.
  • Cesium: The OpenLayers community will also integrate the new Cesium library to enable full 3D spinning globe capabilities directly into the 3.0 release.
  • Closure compiler:  By utilizing Google’s Closure Compiler, developers will be able to create smaller and faster libraries, easing the use of the extensive OpenLayers 3.0 toolkit.
  • A new codebase: This offers an opportunity to clean up some of the “clunky” ways of doing things in OpenLayers. The team will also create with new API designs, which will be more accessible to all.
  • High-quality documentation: The new release will also feature documentation with fresh examples and default designs in OpenLayers 3.0. Making a toolkit standout is about more than the actual code.

But it’s not all about the technology and the desire for choice. At OpenGeo we believe OpenLayers is still unique in its governance structure. OpenLayers is a truly decentralized community, not controlled by any one person or company. Its technical direction is decided by an independent Project Steering Committee (PSC), and is housed as a core project at OSGeo. As an investor in open source, we believe this structure is critical to ensuring that all are equal collaborators, resulting in robust, dependable software.

The above is a short outline of why OpenGeo is supporting OpenLayers 3.0, we urge you to consider investing as well. We are at a unique moment; a number of organizations have already pledged a combined total of $130,000, but that is contingent on OpenLayers raising a minimum of $250,000. If you’re considering supporting OpenLayers, now is the time to act. If you’re part of an organization that uses OpenLayers and are interested in participating in this unique collaboration, please get in touch. We’ll send a prospectus that includes benefits for large organizational donations (examples include commercial support for OpenLayers 3.0 and prominently places logos). Every bit matters; if you can personally support OpenLayers, please visit their crowdfunding campaign.

Thanks for helping.

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