GIS – What IS free software exactly?

We’ve all been there – “Hey guys, I just found this real cool software AND it’s free!!”, you then go to download the software and notice that the licence is only for companies with under 100 employees (Yes I have a software with a licence stating that!).  So what exactly is “Free” software?

Well, the answer isn’t as clear as you would believe, just because something is free, doesn’t mean it is free…for example, take Adobe Reader, it is free software but heavily licensed to protect the author. Another example may be seen in the mobile apps we see nowadays where the game/app is free but heavily advertised to create revenue for the author.

Below I have listed some of the common free software licence types I have encountered with a little explanation as to what it actually covers.

GNU Licence

The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or GPL) is the most widely used free software license, which guarantees end users (individuals, organizations, companies) the freedoms to use, study, share (copy), and modify the software. Software that ensures that these rights are retained is called free software.

The GPL grants the recipients of a computer program the rights of the Free Software Definition and uses copyleft (the opposite of copyright) to ensure the freedoms are preserved whenever the work is distributed, even when the work is changed or added to. The GPL is a copyleft license, which means that derived works can only be distributed under the same license terms. This is in distinction to permissive free software licenses, of which the BSD licenses are the standard examples. GPL was the first copyleft license for general use.

The GNU Lesser General Public License or LGPL (formerly the GNU Library General Public License) The LGPL allows developers and companies to use and integrate LGPL software into their own (even proprietary) software without being required to release the source code of their own software-parts. Merely the LGPL software-parts need to be modifiable by end-users (via source code availability): therefore, in the case of proprietary software, the LGPL-parts are usually used in the form of a shared library (e.g. DLL), so that there is a clear separation between the proprietary parts and open source LGPL parts.

The following is an excerpt of paragraph 5 of the LGPL version 2.1:

“A program that contains no derivative of any portion of the Library, but is designed to work with the Library by being compiled or linked with it, is called a “work that uses the Library”. Such a work, in isolation, is not a derivative work of the Library, and therefore falls outside the scope of this License.”


Freeware is software that is available for use at no monetary cost or for an optional fee, but usually (although not necessarily) closed source with one or more restricted usage rights. Freeware is in contrast to commercial software, which is typically sold for profit, but might be distributed for a business or commercial purpose in the aim to expand the marketshare of a “premium” product. According to the Free Software Foundation, “freeware” is a loosely defined category and it has no clear accepted definition, although FSF says it must be distinguished from free software.

Popular examples of closed-source freeware include Adobe Reader, Free Studio and Skype.

Creative Commons Licence

A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work. A CC license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use and build upon a work that they have created. The difference with a CC licence is that the author may restrict the licence for only non-commercial use and protects the people who use or redistribute an author’s work, so they don’t have to worry about copyright infringement, as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license by which the author distributes the work.

BSD Licence

BSD licenses are a family of permissive free software licenses, imposing minimal restrictions on the redistribution of covered software.

Two variants of the license, the New BSD License/Modified BSD License (3-clause),  and the Simplified BSD License/FreeBSD License (2-clause)  have been verified as GPL-compatible free software licenses by the Free Software Foundation, and have been vetted as open source licenses by the Open Source Initiative,  while the original, 4-clause license has not been accepted as an open source license and, although the original is considered to be a free software license by the FSF (Free software Foundation) , the FSF does not consider it to be compatible with the GPL due to the advertising clause(s).


Beerware is  software released under a very relaxed license. It provides the end user with the right to use a particular program (or do anything else with the source code).

The term came about through the University faculties around the world. Should the user of the product meet the author and consider the software useful, he is encouraged to buy the author a beer “in return”

So what is OPEN SOURCE?

This is defined by the OSI (Open Source Initiative) where the distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria:

1. Free Redistribution

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.

2. Source Code

The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.

3. Derived Works

The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code

The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of “patch files” with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

7. Distribution of License

The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.

8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product

The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program’s being part of a particular software distribution. If the program is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the terms of the program’s license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution.

9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software

The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software.

10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral

No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.

So it that ALL the free software licenses?

No, just a quick look on Wikipedia will show that there are over 40 different free software licence, varying from the basic FOSS (Free Open Source) mentioned above through to multi-user licenses which may restrict users based on functionality.  A full list can be found on Wikipedia: HERE

So how do you know which are true FOSS and safe to use in both a commercial & home environment? Luckily the OSI has a list of licences which have been approved as Open Source, this can be found HERE

Next time you get told about that really cool free software, just look it up and check the licence……:)

Nick D

#GISChat – The difficult second

Christmas is looming and (almost) everyone is finding out how comfortable the concrete outside the pub is as they decide it’s a cheaper option to catching a taxi home from the works xmas do…..

That is not an excuse to miss the next thrilling #GISChat !! The subject matter is still open for discussion and I will be looking forward to some great chat following last months.

The chat will begin on Twitter at 9pm GMT & PKBT (Past Kiddy Bed Time) and run for an hour. A good way to follow the conversation is through a chat portal such as Twubs

I look forward to seeing you all there on Wednesday!!

Get the world talking
Get the world talking

GIS Tips – Be careful about your colours

You know when you have something to say, then realise that it’s not as easy as just putting it down on paper, well……I love to believe that I am a cartographer, though compared to Gretchen Peterson I am possibly more akin to a child finger painting the Mona Lisa.
My problem is that I have mild obsessive compulsive behaviour issues, if I see something that bugs me, it eats away and consumes my soul, you’ll find many of the great GIS users have a mild OCD…I mean, you’d have to, to get so wound up over a vertex not snapping or a grid being 2cm out.

My question is, does anyone stand back and look at their maps anymore? My OCD is going into overdrive with some of the maps I have seen recently, not the quality or the detail, this has improved ten fold in the past few years, my issue lies with the colour choices.

Have a look at the map below, okay, it’s quite humorous, though what are your initial thoughts about the colour? What does red signify? What would you EXPECT?

What do these colours say?
What do these colours say?

In my opinion red has always been associated with DANGER or RISK (okay it could be the cartographer having a joke with us)…..

Now, have a look at the map below and tell me which area is of most importance:

Which area is most important?
Which area is most important?

You see in this example, just by using red, amber, green (and blue), the author has subliminally alluded to importance just by the colours they have chosen.

Right, last one, this time I want you NOT to think about rivers or streams:

Are they streams?
Are they streams?

In this example the routes are highlighted in blue, which, if you look quickly, appear as rivers or streams until your brain has had time to decipher what is going on here.

And I think that hits the nail on the head, your brain is predisposed and trained to recognise certain things. Danger is red, water is blue, mud is brown and land (as in mapping), is green. American philosopher Daniel Dennet has even proposed that we, as humans, are genetically predisposed to recognise things.

The fact that we are predisposed in this way means that we need to be more intelligent in our cartography, this doesn’t mean we have to create everything in greyscale, in fact, quite the opposite! This means that we can have some real fun with it – Have a look at these two examples of the same information:

Cannabis Use Cannibis_goodThe top map is cartographically correct, it looks okay, though the bottom map is attractive to the eyes, why?….Subliminally are you making the association with marijuana (also called weed) of GREEN? Below is a map showing ‘Cord Blood Legislation Enacted’


My question here is; would the map have worked if the author used any other colour than red?…I’m not too sure, after all, I am seeing blood and thinking RED.

Of course, it is not always possible to produce a map which is based on our predisposed ideas, I often create legal maps and figures which I am sure would not go down well if I used heavy amounts of red for areas at risk….especially when we are trying to show that the project has little risk. The fact that I am considering how a client or consumer may think about the colours already puts me one step ahead.

It obviously comes down to the TYPE of map you are creating but definitely keep this all in mind when creating your works of art.

One colleague of mine had a big thing against me using pink, especially on any navigation charts. If you have ever seen a navigation chart, they are very clever with their cartography and leave very few colours for applying data to. Many times I would have to show fishing vessels and would be limited to either blue (not good when the sea is blue) or pink (a very good contrast for the blue)….but as my colleague pointed out…..THEY would be the ones physically showing a bunch of butch fishermen where we believed their vessels were moving and using pink was asking for a fight….

Choose your colours wisely

Nick D

GIS – What do I ACTUALLY do?….

What do YOU do?

We’ve all laughed at the joke, what my mum thinks I do, what my friends think I do…..and so on;

ImageBut what do you tell the the bank when they ask what your job is? Or how about when you get your car insurance? GIS Consultant, GIS Technician & Geoninja are extremely rare to see on any job list and if you do utter your job title you inevitable encounter those dreaded words:

What exactly does that job entail?

And there you have it, the million dollar question – What is it you actually do?

I was asked recently as part of a proposal for work to put together a capability statement and jokingly said that I couldn’t put what I do down on paper, they pushed me….so I started writing, this is what came out:

  • Geomatics (GIS & Data Management):

Here at PMSS we don’t just provide GIS consultancy, we provide Geomatic (the integration of technologies relating to the acquisition, storage, manipulation and management of spatially related data) solutions. Our team is experienced through years of involvement with renewable energy clients  to produce the very best answers to all your geospatial, cartographic, data management or development needs.

PMSS uses ESRI ArcGIS Desktop, QGIS, AutoCAD and WindPro as part of their suite of analysis tools. Their Geomatics team are involved in The British Cartography Society, The UK Hydrography Society and MEDIN as part of their dedication to providing an elite solution.

  • Support:

Our Geomatics team have developed their expertise through years of working with real clients and issues in some of the top industries in a wide range of disciplines so that they can provide real answers to solutions. Support for all aspects of geospatial technology are provided with a focus on

  • Mapping:

With a drive for quality and an eye for cartography, our team deliver products that are not only geospatially accurate but are also cartographically elegant, providing mapping which can relate the information without the need for words. Mapping can be supplied in a wide variety of formats depending on individual need.

  • Analysis:

Whether calculating the real distance of a subsea cable based on the undulation of the terrain or estimating the available wind energy resource in a field parcel, our team is committed to providing the most accurate answer based on industry standard data and years of experience within the industry. No piece of analysis is too small or too big and all analysis is done using the latest geoprocessing techniques to ensure consistency and high resolution.

  • Data Management:

Providing expert help from start to finish, our Geomatics team are at the cutting edge of data standards and geospatial guidelines. Whatever the requirement, the team are dedicated to assisting in streamlining and modernising any data storage system and help find the most efficient solution based on your need.

  • Development:

Entering into the world of geospatial information systems is a daunting and intimidating task with complex jargon. Our Geomatics team are here to help, with years of experience working with a vast array of renewable energy clients , software providers and clients new to the market, we can translate the jargon and negotiate the right system for your company.

  • If you already have a great system but require a little more from it, we can provide system analysis, application development, create new tools and provide architecture consultancy amongst a few of our offerings
  • Cartographic Representation Advice:

Mapping is now so accessible that sometimes the representation of the map is overlooked. Let us provide guidance on best practice or create and provide icons for use  within your maps , we can provide a complete service which will ensure consistency and elegant cartography for all your maps throughout a report.

  • Data Quality Analysis:

The quality of the data that is used by a business is a measure of how well its organizational data practices satisfy business, technical, and regulatory standards. Organizations with poor data quality spend time working with conflicting reports and flawed business plans, resulting in erroneous decisions that are made with outdated, inconsistent, and invalid data. We can help to make your data a valuable asset to your organisation.

  • Report & Document Consistency Assurance:

A well written report can change the way an organisation is seen by their competitors. We can provide a complete service to ensure all text and mapping are consistent and provide a third person review of how the information is seen by external sources thus giving more market presence.

  • Metadata Development and Management:

Metadata is a basic requirement of the Crown Estate for data transfer on Round 3 projects  yet it can be confusing, time consuming and quite often collected in multiple formats, if at all. Our understanding of the many different standards and their implementation means that we can provide you with the power to take control of your metadata. We can also provide tools to create your own catalogues or even create your metadata for you.

  • Review and analysis of business objectives and company needs for GIS:

The adoption of a successful GIS is not as straight forward as it first appears with so many technologies and potential applications available in the market now. Depending on whether you intend on undertaking simple analysis, creating maps for clients or online mapping can make a great difference in both cost and system design.  Let us guide you, using our experience and knowledge to get a powerful system which can deal with all your organisations need at a cost that meets your expectation.

  • Asset Management:

The ability to efficiently manage and extract information about your existing assets and projects can reduce cost and empower teams to understand the direct risks and issues. PMSS has worked alongside existing organisations using their asset management tools to spatially integrate data to provide efficient end to end solutions which visualise the data better and create an unsurpassed solution. Please contact us for a demonstration of what we can do for you.

  • GIS Data Resource analysis and availability:

Until recently a GIS depended largely on surveyed or internally created data. With the increased use of GIS has come an increased wealth of data from all over the world, with our global presence and knowledge of GIS analysis on a global scale, we can advise on the best industry standard data or the most suitable data for your project and help guide you through the licensing process. Whether it is the other side of the world or in a field across the road, we are confident that we can help.

  • GIS Data Resource analysis and availability:

Until recently a GIS depended largely on surveyed or internally created data. With the increased use of GIS has come an increased wealth of data from all over the world, with our global presence and knowledge of GIS analysis on a global scale, we can advise on the best industry standard data or the most suitable data for your project and help guide you through the licensing process. Whether it is the other side of the world or in a field across the road, we are confident that we can help.

  • Data standard guidance and data models:

Within the current renewables environment, there is little in the way of spatial data infrastructure (SDI) which can make interaction with large projects consisting of multiple disciplines complicated. With our extensive experience in all areas of the renewables sector, we are best placed to advise on best practices, standards and even provide data models to ensure full interoperability to increase the efficiency of a project.

  • Site Design and layout:

Using the very latest analysis techniques and using advanced geoprocessing, our team can ensure accurate and consistent results, extracting and detailing refined answers quickly and efficiently. Having worked on all manner of renewable projects with outstanding success, we can ensure that the service we provide will be an excellent investment.

  • Heat Mapping:

Understanding the potential resource available to intelligently target areas is a cost effective way of deciding areas of focus for renewable energy projects, PMSS has the best data at hand to extract and analyse data quickly and accurately,  we can also provide heat mapping to show analyse areas of risk, cumulative impact or interest.

  • 2D & 3D Map Creation:

The ability to make everyone understand your plans or the impacts of an issue easily can be done many ways using a GIS. By using 3D visualisation a set of spatial data can come alive, terrain, features and issues can be seen in context in a way that several paper maps or charts couldn’t. Using industry standard software we can ensure that any data we create is compatible with your current GIS.

  • Interactive PDF creation:

Giving a client a paper map is so last year! With the latest software we can provide the same maps but in Adobe Reader format (PDF) which is fully interactive. The user can manipulate layers, interrogate attribute tables and even get the coordinates in a variety of datum. This format really comes into its own when there are large numbers of constraints and issues which all need relaying, as the user can easily switch between the layers without the map becoming too convoluted.

  • Offshore and onshore survey representation:

With so much being reliant on a survey, it is critical that it is represented clearly and accurately. Our team has been involved with some of the country’s top renewable projects and understands the importance in representing the information correctly. No matter what format your survey is captured in, let us use our expertise and skill to bring your survey information to life.

  • Mass production and mapping to A0 and above:

Our geomatics team have years of experience dealing with high volume output. With a large resource available, our team can produce large volumes of maps in a wide variety of formats with little set-up time. With a rigorous internal QA system you can be assured the deadline will be met. We also have the facility to print larger than A0, allowing for maps and representations which can be seen from the back of the largest auditorium.

  • Geographic Risk Model Development:

By modelling and quantifying risk spatially it is possible to analyse potential issues due to failing processes or cumulative impacts in advance and how they can be avoided. With our proven track record in the Health & Safety sector, Environmental Scientists and navigational experts we can apply the most appropriate models for your needs.

  • Linear Referencing (Cable Routing)  & Least Cost Path Analysis:

The design and creation of cable routes whether onshore or offshore can often be costly and time-consuming. Using the latest GIS we are able to calculate the most affective route or the shortest route dependant on your criteria, either as a high level analysis to ensure you focus your project on the right area or as a detailed analysis to provide the most cost-effective cable route available.

  • Site Selection through Multi-criteria:

Here at PMSS we have refined the site selection process to a finely honed automated routine which accurately analyses a search area and extracts a large list of information consistently time and time again. Based on our proven track record in the renewable industry we  use the latest data and complex geoprocessing to provide results far beyond what you would expect.

  • Spatial Analysis:

With the growing number of constraints and issues restricting the build of renewable projects it is imperative to assess the spatial relationships and cumulative impacts. Our geomatics team are well versed in  spatial analysis disciplines such as; suitability modelling, surface analysis, distance analysis. Density analysis, solar analysis, map algebra, land use analysis, data interpolation, cost weighting and wind resource calculation amongst a few.

  • 3D Analysis, Modelling and Visualization (ZTV):

By using 3 dimensions data can be viewed in a more realistic perspective and issues produced by terrain, bathymetry, hydrology in relation to physical features can be seen and queried. Using these analysis tools our team can produce fly throughs (also available in anaglyph 3D), recreate realistic visualisations of scenarios or projects, analyse real world issues, create subsea cable profiles and create zone of theoretical visability (ztv) analysis amongst a handful of the range of products

  • Network Analysis:

With a growing need for analysing and producing refined cable routes and transport access routes it has become necessary for our team to provide a suite of network analysis services. From simple functions such as closest feature, emergency response or driving directions through to complex functions such as dynamic impedance and location allocation.

  • Address Geocoding & reverse geocoding:

Whether the need for geocoding arises from identifying residential and industrial locations, adding geospatial location to data or the address data requires update to include captured data. Our team can

  • Data Capture, Creation, Digitization and Conversion:

With links to the Ordnance Survey and involvement with the British Cartography Society and the UK Hydrographic Society our team also have experience of many survey methods. Dealing with many of the formats of data and ensuring the highest quality our team can transfer knowledge into spatial features with the greatest of ease. Whether your requirement is simply creating a new boundary for a map or resampling and conversion of your geophysical survey, you can rely on us.

  • Image Geo-rectification:

The best analysis comes from looking at data from all your project members, engineers, developers, HSE etc. Our geomatics team have spent many years involved in projects combining images from reports, CAD output, admiralty charts and many more into maps which show the whole story and bring the information into perspective. We are also experienced in rectification and manipulation of aerial imagery, please contact us to discuss your need.

  • Demographic analysis:

Where public opinion has become a large force  within the renewable industry our team have developed methods of analysing information about the type of population who may live near your proposed development, information on population size, attitude towards environmental issues, unemployment, number of planning permissions granted to name a few.

  • Renewables Resource Assessment:

Assessing the potential for development and predicting potential gain can significantly enhance your project design and area of focus for further projects. With a proven record in resource assessment our team has the skill and knowledge to extract the information you need.

  • Customised Desktop and Web based GIS application development:

As well as designing you GIS, we can take you current GIS to its full potential providing you with the tools accelerate your business forward with our range of services such as tool development, web mapping, map customisation and interface customisation.

  • System Analysis and Architecture:

Even the most expensive GIS can struggle when the data around it is poorly organised or it may be that multiple factors combine to slow what should be a super system. Our geomatics team work together with our experienced IT professionals to evaluate your system to provide a solution which could improve productivity and allow new confidence in your investment.

  • GIS System Design

Getting the right system for your needs can be costly, complicated and time-consuming with so many software manufacturers , system designs and specialised tools. We can assess your requirement and discuss your future expectations to derive the most cost-effective solution which will not only serve you well now but when you need to expand will provide you with the core elements to make the move easily.

Thats a lot to tell the bank!

That was just the tip of the iceberg when I realised that there was even more I could add to that again….

What I am wondering now is whether the issue here lies with the lack of publicity about GIS (I can easily see myself hosting a BBC show on GIS *hint*) or whether the issue lies in the generic title of “GIS”

Let’s consider the many elements of GIS, you could easily reduce many of them into smaller categories, for example cartography, geospatial analysis, survey & geophysical analysis are all job roles in their own right.

Due to the increased functionality and capability of the modern GIS, no user IS specialist, there is no “cartographer” anymore…..the cartographer is usually also a web designer, developer and QA analyst….the “geophysical survey specialist” is usually a 3D visualisation expert, data cleaner, data format consultant and adviser on datums….

So what is the answer? Do we continue under the blanket term of GIS?

Now that there is so much breadth in the industry, I believe it is time to find another term, one which can encapsulate the true abilities and expertise inherent in all the relevant areas.

But what is it? That is up for debate and I look forward to being part of the discussion, terms like “geotech” for a web developer or “geovis” for a 2D/3D map & visualisation person start to inspire me that we are slowly getting there but we, as an industry are way off. When I look at other industries jobs there is a lot more clarity –

Doctor – specialist terms under this maybe oncologist, pediatrician or even general practitioner.

Accountant – specialist terms under this may be forensic, tax or even social

Scientist – specialist terms under this may be astrophysicist, ecologist or even lepidopterists

You can see how there is one overarching term  which describes to profession and then a term to describe the speciality… day maybe GIS will be the same (hopefully)

One thing is for sure, I am not sure that I can have another conversation where I ask “Are you SURE you want to know what exactly I do?”……..

Nick D

GIS Tips: Make QGIS DEMs more “3D”

Applying a hillshade effect to QGIS DEMs

Relief shading gives a DEM a more “3D” look. In the popular ESRI ArcGIS, there is a function to apply “z” amplification to the hillshade effect, this is quite easy to replicate in QIGS.

To use relief shading in QGIS, follow the steps outlined below:

Ensure that you have your DEM open in QGIS, and have an appropriate colour map shading. The DEM without relief shading is shown below.

QGIS relief shading 01.png

From the menu items select – Raster >>> DEM (Terrain Models)

Select the input DEM, and an output filename (a new hillshading DEM will be created). Make sure the Mode is set to Hillshade.

QGIS relief shading 02.png

Open the output file. Position this in the Layer Control section above the DEM, and set a transparency for the layer.

QGIS relief shading 03.png

The DEM should now have relief shading, the relief shaded DEM is shown below.

QGIS relief shading 04.png
Nick D