M@IN - Accessing Spatial Data Tutorial


Geographic Information and GIS - Software

Anyone who uses a computer - to access the Internet, to do word processing, to manage personal finances, or even to play Nintendo games - is using software. Software can be thought of as the programs, procedures, and rules for a computer system. Every computer application requires specialized software.

The spatial data that are described in the North Carolina Geographic Data Clearinghouse and available through various government agencies and other organizations are of no use without specialized software.

Is GIS Software?

Geographic information systems encompass:

For many GIS practitioners, GIS is simply the generic term for GIS software. When you inquire of a GIS user "What GIS are you using?", you are really asking "What GIS software are you using?"

Who Creates GIS Software?

A number of private companies produce and market a wide range of GIS software packages. Some are highly specialized, designed to support a single, narrowly targeted application. Others are more generic and enable the user to use spatial data for almost any type of spatial analysis. Many include internal program languages that allow the user to customize the software for specific purposes.

The purchase price for GIS software ranges from a few hundred dollars for very basic computer mapping packages to more than $10,000 for the more powerful and sophisticated systems. For a listing of GIS software. For more information, see the GIS resource page, available from the index page.

Who Uses GIS Software?

The GIS user community is still limited, for the most part, to government agencies, business, and academia. The general public have not been able to take advantage of this exciting new way of examining the world of maps and spatial data.

Why Not the General Public?

GIS Is New - The entire technology is fairly recent. Even the term GIS was not coined until about 1980.

Ease of Use - GIS is still not user-friendly. Formal training and regular use are prerequisites to effectively use GIS. Only recently have GIS software vendors begun to develop a more intuitive software interface that permits non-specialists to operate a GIS.

Hardware Limitations - Spatial data are memory intensive and file sizes may be very large. Until recently, the typical home computer did not provide sufficient memory and disk space to store and manage GIS files.

Cost - Until recently, the cost of GIS software and of the computer platform required to use the software and manage the data has been prohibitive for a private citizen. Prices for software and more powerful computers are beginning to drop dramatically, promising greater access to GIS by the general public.

Data Availability - Creating digital spatial data is labor intensive and expensive. The lack of good quality data has been a barrier to the widespread use of GIS, even by government agencies and private companies with the resources to acquire software and computers.

The good news is that GIS software is becoming easier to use, computers are more powerful, prices are dropping , and high quality spatial data are more readily available.

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