Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

The Flexibility of Open Source

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I’m helping to teach at a workshop on open source GIS at the University of Leicester in a couple of week’s time. As usual, this means running around trying to get all the software that we need installed on the university computers. As usual, what the course organisers think will be OK, and what the IT department think will be OK, are two different things!

We’d rather not use a LiveDVD, as we want the students to work in the environment which they are used to- in this case windows. We don’t really want to saddle the IT department with lots of PostgreSQL and Apache configuration, so we’re going to try using Portable GIS (gulp).

The current iteration (as available here), has an out of date version of Quantum GIS, doesn’t contain the statistical package R, and also contains a bunch of other stuff that we won’t use on the course (MySQL, GvSIG etc). The beauty of open source cross platform software though, is that rolling a customised version, containing just what software we need, and the latest versions, was quite easy.  Adding in the data, and even the course notes, will be straightforward (once we’ve written them, of course!). Installation is simply a case of copying everything onto each pc, and the students can take it all home with them when they are done.

The open source license is not the big deal here, despite the title of the post, but the added benefits that it brings are pretty cool. Free software means we can run the course without having to worry about buying licenses, or sending students home with limited demo versions afterwards. The cross-platform nature of the software means most of the donkey work is done in human readable files that can easily be edited to work in a portable fashion, and finally, because it’s open source, we can do that legally.

I think that’s all pretty cool…

(Small Plug) If you like the idea of using Portable GIS for a course, but don’t fancy customising or preparing it yourself, then get in touch!

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