October 01, 2007
News from the FOSS4G Conference
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

News from the FOSS4G Conference

by Susan Smith

The Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) conference has become the quintessential event for open source for geospatial providers. Held in Victoria, BC this year, September 24-27, it attracted approximately 700 attendees. The event showcases how open source software can make people more efficient with their commercial software.

Announcements coming out of that conference are more numerous than I will cover here, but here are some significant ones:

Autodesk announced their acquisition of Mentor Software and its CS-Map product and its intent to provide the technology as a contribution to the open source community. The Mentor libraries are already built into the MapGuide Enterprise and into Topobase, Autodesk’s commercial products. “One of the benefits is that we will now be able to put Mentor into MapGuide Open Source so customers will have one coordinate system to use across all the Autodesk products,” stated Andrew Mackles, the director of Geospatial Product Management for Autodesk. “It will make it easy for them because they won’t have to convert libraries, since conversion can lead to

Last year Autodesk put MapGuide and FDO into open source, and their customers have truly responded. With FDO they’ve seen the community build lots of new providers and lots of sources for data, and Autodesk can’t keep up with these sources. “We saw the same opportunity with coordinate systems, there are so many coordinate systems out there, we can’t keep up with all of them,” said Mackles. “By acquiring the software for Mentor and putting it in open source, customers can benefit because now they have the community to participate and keep up with all of the coordinate systems and changes that happen.”

“We are going to clean up code put some notations in it to get it ready for open source, and by the end of the year we’ll put it out to the community to start using it,” Mackles pointed out. Norm Olsen, founder of Mentor, will go to work for Autodesk.

Interestingly, Autodesk was using Mentor for all their products except for MapGuide Open Source, for which they were using PROJ4. “Our goal is to get everything on the same coordinate system,” Mackles concluded. “It makes it easier for customers to develop on the open source platform and come to us for the commercial platform.”

Safe Software announced their FME data translation product for providing spatial ETL (extract, transform and load) tools for translating and transforming spatial data at the conference. The company is sponsoring and presenting at the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) conference in Victoria, BC, from September 24-27. Safe’s FME platform can play an important role in improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of geospatial systems by serving as a bridge for exchanging data between open source and proprietary software.

FME is used for open source, such as by the province of British Columbia to load data in and out of PostGIS. FME has also used the open source program GDAL as part of the raster support it offers, and Safe has sponsored some of the work that has take place with GDAL. Dale Lutz said that they even have a customer who uses their products to translate their dentists’ records into PostGIS, even though that is not their market niche.

“A number of years ago open source software was a footnote, but now it’s being seen as though there is another vendor in the room, to a degree,” noted Lutz, VP of Product Development at Safe Software. “By funding open source and also selling commercially, Autodesk has straddled the market. Many organizations are looking at some of the ways they can leverage their open source but not walk away from their installed base of commercial software. Finding a way to make those things work together is how we’re positioning FME in that ecosystem.”

For most of these systems, for example, a web mapping system, data has to come from somewhere to get into the backend of the web mapping system. “The other choice is people could start writing code from scratch to do a translator but the cost of an FME doesn’t pay for too many hours of programming. It’s more efficient to buy an FME and move the data from wherever it is and transform it.” Lutz explained that FME isn’t just a translator that can go from a geodatabase to PostGIS, but it can also change the data model so when it gets into the backend of the web mapping system it’s in a form that’s readily usable. “They don’t have to do
additional manipulation to remove duplicate records…all of that can be done very efficiently by FME on the way in.”

Lutz referenced an article he read in 1993 that stated that on the average GIS project, 60% of the time was spent gathering the data together and bringing it into the system where you want to do your work. 40% is doing what you actually want to do. “FME works on getting rid of that 60% bringing it down to 5% so you can spend more time actually creating maps or whatever.”

Lutz said that FME now supports roughly 190 formats so they don’t know which three formats a customer might be using. “We know everyone uses three formats, yet they all use different ones.”

There isn’t anything around that can do transformation between open source systems, at this point, said Lutz. There are some efforts using FDO which is a way of moving data between different systems. Generally, however, the creators of open source want to focus on where their time is best spent. “It isn’t their main goal to have easy data exchange because it’s not really what they’re trying to accomplish. so that’s where we’re able to add some value. The developers of open source are people who only have so much time and so they have to decide what is the thing that moves them, do they want to write the translator part or do they want to write
the next best mapping tool or the next best way of indexing spatial data?”

Lutz talked about the Autodesk model as being profoundly different from other open source organizations, with its Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo). “I’m not aware of anything to the extent of the Autodesk model where there is an open source thing that is also basically the product of a commercial company, in the GIS realm.” Autodesk’s customer feedback loop has been profoundly influenced by the formation of the OSGeo.

Safe Software uses a model with similar results in that they make their development available to their early adopters community on a daily basis. “From the beginning we’ve had a very tight feedback loop,” said Lutz.

Safe Software hosted a hands-on lab session at FOSS4G that employed six different scenarios to showcase the diversity of components from the open source stack that can be accessed using FME - components such as such as PostGIS, PostgreSQL, MySQL®, SQLite, GDAL, OGR, FDO and GEOS. A detailed description of this session is available at the

Top News of the Week

Intermap Technologies Corp. announced that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has awarded the Company's Intermap Federal Services Inc. subsidiary a $1.3 million contract to provide imagery and elevation data from Intermap's comprehensive NEXTMap(R) USA geospatial dataset. The licensed data includes the Gulf Coast areas of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

eSpatial announced significant deals in the United States with the United States Department of Defense (U.S. DoD) and Jeppesen Aviation (a Boeing Subsidiary).

eSpatial have signed an agreement with DoD to further enhance and extend the MilitaryHOMEFRONT Location Based Services (LBS) application originally launched in August 2006 which provides a global web portal with information on over 250 US military installations and communities worldwide. Built using eSpatial’s iSMART® product, enhancements will be made to extend the application including improved navigation, searching, links to additional information plus inclusion of satellite imagery for selected geographic areas.

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-- Susan Smith, GISCafe.com Managing Editor.

Review Article
  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'David Sonnen'
    Many software companies like to say that FOSS4G apps are interesting toys or just a way to try out applications before you buy the "real" stuff. But, this year's FOSS4G conference clearly shows that some free or open source spatial software that is well suited for enterprise-grade applications. If our market research is on track, it looks like users are definitely taking note.

      Was this review helpful to you?   (Report this review as inappropriate)

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