One of the best tools anyone who wants to get into mapmaking, cartography, and spatial analysis can use is a GIS: a geographic information system. A GIS is simply a tool that organizes data using a spatial mechanism… and there are a LOT of them.
A common example I use to demonstrate the use of GISystems is my “Food Deserts in Detroit” map:
To create this map, I collected data from Google, placed it in pin points and then created a buffer around those points in increments of a mile. While I used ArcGIS to create this layout, it easily could have been done in any number of GIS tools.
Anyone can use a GIS and some of them will be very familiar and simple. Some examples of familiar GIS software may include Google Earth, perhaps even Google Maps, Bing Maps, Mapquest, etc. Other, more complicated software like ArcGIS or ERDAS will provide a desktop environment to complete intense spatial analysis.
So, how do you get GIS Software? I took some time to put together a list of software. I would encourage anyone to simply jump into using these tools. Many of these I have not used myself, but see commonly used by other.
Desktop-based GIS Software:
- ArcGIS (ESRI) – The most well-known and powerful GIS suite.
- FalconView – Map overlay tool developed by Georgia Tech for the U.S. Department of Defense.
- Google Earth – Comprehensive, easy to use GIS.
- Grass GIS – Free, open-source powerful GIS suite.
- gvSIG – User-friendly, free GIS suite.
- ILWIS – Integrated Land and Water Information System
- Maptitude GIS Suite
- MapWindow GIS
- Quantum GIS – Free, user-friendly GIS Suite.
- uDIG – User-Friendly Desktop Internet GIS