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Why Choose – A Hybrid Approach To GIS Mapping Software

Earlier this year Esri released a white paper highlighting the benefits of open source and open specifications. No, that wasn’t a joke; the article is real, and well worth a read. It is a solid summation of open source in the marketplace and discusses the differences between open source software and open standards (what Esri calls “open specifications”). But more fundamentally, in this paper, Esri makes a bold and sensible claim that may surprise some people:

Deciding between open source and ArcGIS is not an either/or question. Esri encourages users to choose a hybrid model, a combination of open source and closed source technology, based on their needs.

The paper goes on to talk about Esri’s integration with various open source projects, from their ArcGIS Editor for OpenStreetMap, to their integration of Python into ArcGIS 10 (ArcPy), to their Geoportal Server, which is hosted on SourceForge. On the use of hybrid technology, we are in firm agreement. From the beginning, we have designed our software with integration in mind. For example, the OpenGeo Suite can connect to a number of proprietary databases, including ArcSDE, Oracle Spatial, IBM DB2, and Microsoft SQL Server, and the list continues to grow. In addition, with GeoCat Bridge you can publish data from ArcGIS Desktop to the web with the OpenGeo Suite.

Why would we advocate for proprietary systems? Simply put, we always suggest using the right tool for the job. Esri has great desktop tools, but on the server side there are faster, more reliable, more flexible options that support more standards. It can make sense to use ArcGIS Desktop and then use GeoCat Bridge to publish directly to the OpenGeo Suite. Or to use ArcSDE for data collaboration, then connect to the OpenGeo Suite to serve to the web. We know you have options when choosing any piece of software: Apache Tomcat versus IBM WebSphere, PostgreSQL versus Oracle Spatial, QGIS or uDIG versus ArcGIS Desktop, and, of course, the OpenGeo Suite versus ArcGIS Server. While we feel that open source holds the best route forward for software development, we are happy to give advice on the pros and cons of various architectures. The OpenGeo Suite Enterprise Edition clients use a variety of solutions that meet their needs. We’ll be publishing some white papers in the near future to help you compare the different software options in the marketplace; and we applaud Esri for their moves toward open source, and appreciate their candor in promoting a hybrid model.