Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

Portable GIS vs OSGeo Live

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Over the last couple of weeks, a few people have asked me the same question, which is (to paraphrase) “what’s the difference between Portable GIS and OSGeo Live or USB GIS?”. You get asked something once, and that’s fine, but more than that and it’s worth a blog post!

The main difference between the two options is that OSGeo Live and USB GIS are bootable disks. You plug the USB stick (or DVD) into your computer, reboot, and you’re presented with a fully configured Linux environment, with all the software ready to use.  While you’re in that environment, you can work as normal, but when you reboot, you’re back to your own OS. These options are cross-platform- they will work with windows, linux, or mac- as long as your machine can accept booting from a Live DVD or USB Stick.

Portable GIS is different. It is designed to work within windows, and only from a USB stick. Download the excutable, install it onto a suitably quick USB stick, open the menu application, and you’re good to go. You have access to all your standard windows resources, and can save your data either to the stick (if you have space) or to any other drive on your pc. The limitation is that it will only work within windows.

I think there’s a place for both options. Live DVDs/USB Sticks are great for a training environment where you want everyone to have exactly the same setup, where it looks identical, and has all the same data and passwords. I use the OSGeo Live DVD all the time for training, and give copies away liberally at events. I haven’t tried USB GIS yet but knowing the guys at Faunalia it’s bound to be good.

Portable GIS, on the other hand,  is good when you want to work on the same software at home as you do at work, in the operating system that you’re familiar with, and you want to transfer your data between the two. I think it will also work in a lot of locked down environments (though I don’t guarantee anything, because sysadmins can be wily creatures).

So, where are we at with the new version? I’m getting together the various packages and trying to find my notes about the secret sauce that makes them all run portably. Expect it to be a bit stripped down- there was some repetition of components last time, and I’m more interested in something that will run on a smaller disk and take less time to download and install. I’ll keep you posted!