January 5, 2007

MapGuide Open Source leads service company down new revenue streams

Author: Tina Gasperson

Spatial Integrators is a mapping services company in Spokane, Wash., that acts as a consultant for electric companies, public utilities, and other government entities that want to develop custom mapping solutions. Now that Autodesk has released its MapGuide software under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), Spatial is offering its clients a completely new solution: open source software.

Andy Morsell, the founder of Spatial Integrators, has been working with MapGuide Open Source since the beginning. "My company has been around for about four years, mostly focused around GIS consulting and integration," Morsell says. "As part of that, I was doing quite a bit of development using Autodesk. When they began announcing that they were going open source about a year ago, I followed along with that."

Morsell uses MapGuide for solutions used in-house by his clients, not published openly on the Internet. "We use it in our projects for customers looking to develop their own GIS systems and distribute them using a Web mapping interface." MapGuide takes raw map data and helps users formulate that data into custom stylized maps and then publish them online, either on a public site like SpokaneMaps, or a company intranet, or for passing along to customer networks.

When MapGuide became open source, it was Morsell's first experience with non-proprietary software. "Most of our business was based on commercially available packages. There weren't many open source projects in the GIS world then. This has helped open my eyes. We are looking at using a lot more open source software."

MapGuide Open Source has allowed Morsell to offer his clients Linux server implementations, something that wasn't possible with the commercial version of MapGuide. "Building a Linux server from scratch is a much easier process than starting with Windows Server 2003," Morsell says. "The footprint is small, it is faster, and it doesn't eat up your system resources. It's very simple to get something up and running quickly. I was pretty blown away."

Linux and MapGuide Open Source have opened a new revenue stream for Spatial Integrators. "We found a way to make money off of open source," Morsell says. "People who don't have experience themselves now have a lot more alternatives, and we are able to offer something much more affordable. Our services tend to be the same, with the same hourly rate, but for them to download MapGuide Open Source at no cost, as opposed to $10,000 for a competitive product -- it's a substantial savings."

Morsell says the only obstacle he has had to overcome is clients' concern that they will not have the same kind of end user support with an open source product. "It's a valid concern, but we're assuring them that the community is active and a lot of people are willing to help." Still, some clients refuse to go with open source. "They feel much better having a commercial entity behind the product."

Morsell says that from now on, he'll keep open source in mind as an alternative whenever he is considering a new software application. "I'll look a lot more closely at it internally or for my customers. We've always been commercial, but there's a realization now that there's an alternative out there and communities are doing this kind of thing. If I'm looking for new software, like a PHP editor, I Google it and find something quite viable to use, instead of looking for a commercial product right off the bat."


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