A History of Open Source GIS, from Humble Beginnings to World-Changing Applications


The advent of digital mapping and geospatial information systems (GIS) has completely changed the way humans think about and interact with the world around them. The concept of overlapping discrete layers of location information for decision-making was first introduced by Ian McHarg, a landscape architect, in the 1960s. Around the same time, Roger Tomlinson — known universally as the “Father of GIS” — completed his doctoral thesis focused on the use of computing methods for the overlay of geospatial information. Roger then worked to create the first computerized GIS, the Canada Geographic Information System, which was used primarily for surveying.

The roots of open source GIS can be traced back to the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1978. Since then, open source GIS has permeated many industries, both government, and commercial, and has naturally had a different trajectory and impact than its proprietary, license-based counterpart. 

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