New GRASS Release Migrates to Microsoft Windows

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Industry News
New GRASS Release Migrates to Microsoft Windows
By Susan Smith

Since it was developed in 1982 by the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories, a division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System)open source GIS platform has evolved from its original purpose as a land management and environmental planning tool for the military, to a powerful GIS used by academia, commercial institutions and government agencies. It continues to be offered at no cost to very active and growing user and developer communities. Markus Neteler of Fondazione Mach - Centre for Alpine Ecology in Bondone (Trento), Italy shared with GISWeekly some of the notable features of the latest GRASS 6.3.0 release, which include its ability to run natively on a non-UNIX based platform: Microsoft Windows and a prototype of the new wxPython user interface.

GISWeekly: What are the most significant features of this upcoming release?

Markus Neteler: This release brings hundreds of new module features, supported data formats, and language translations, as well as a number of exciting enhancements to the GIS. A prototype of the new wxPython user interface is debuted, and for the first time since its inception with a port from the VAX 11/780 in 1983, GRASS will run natively on a non-UNIX based platform: Microsoft Windows. The packages for Microsoft Windows, MacOSX and Linux come with convenient installers.

GW: There has been particular interest in open source solutions in the past couple of years, and when we posted your announcement on GISCafe, it was met with an extraordinary number of reads. To what do you attribute the surge in interest in open source, and most particularly, GRASS?

MN: More and more users realize that the various open source solutions are nowadays well integrated, permit easy data exchange and analysis along with the implementation of many industrial standards. Free and open source solutions are also easily integrated into heterogeneous workflows in case that existing infrastructure needs to be kept. Last but not least is the fact that open source GIS is often as powerful or even better than proprietary solutions while having a free license is of great interest.

GW: What national governments are using GRASS?

MN: From our download statistics and discussions in user forums we know that all kinds of national governments in all continents of the world use GRASS. With thousands of downloads per month we reach a wide public. GRASS has been the first choice also for several municipalities which are migrating to free and open source solutions.

GW: Have the open source efforts of others such as Autodesk fueled interest in GRASS?

MN: The efforts of Autodesk and other companies have certainly helped for our marketing - to reach a wider audience and to show that GRASS and related products enrich the software stack. Despite the fact that GRASS offers new graphical user interfaces, we also promote it as a GIS backbone for geospatial analysis. While Autodesk MapGuide Open Source targets Web applications, also the GIS workhorse behind the scene is needed - GRASS provides the requested functionality here.

GW: Is this the first release to be created since becoming founding members of OSGeo? And has that association influenced the release? If so, how?

GRASS 6.3.0 is already the second major release as a OSGeo member. However, the integration into the OSGeo software stack along with a recent migration to OSGeo infrastructure for GRASS development helps a lot to integrate the various OSGeo projects. We can share code to avoid code duplication and can easily share new ideas.

GW: How do you feel this release of GRASS may differ from other open source offerings at this time?

MN: GRASS is a well established GIS software which is mature and well tested. Thanks to the recent portability improvements, we are now almost platform independent. The users can simply choose the package according to their preferred operating system, the code is compliant and so is also the internal database. Users can even work in parallel in the same database, a feature not found elsewhere in other desktop GIS. Additionally, the integration with other OSGeo projects such as GDAL/OGR and Quantum GIS is another plus resulting from a good collaboration. We aim at synchronizing our development cycles so that users obtain stable software.

GW: What do you see as the future of GRASS?

MN: We'll continue to develop GRASS  and analytical GIS with new efforts of providing an easy to use graphical user interface. Document sharing with other OSGeo projects will be intensified, a couple of proposals have been submitted to the user and developer communities. We'll continue to translate software and documentation into various languages to enable users to run the software in their mother tongues. New efforts will improve the interfaces to run GRASS as a GIS backbone to be used in OGC Web Processing Services. Two prototypes already exist.

GW: What does the GRASS development community look like? How large?

The GRASS development community consists of an international team of programmers, researchers and power users. We have more than 20 developers who continuously work on the code plus a series of power users and third party contributors.

In the GRASS development mailing list 540 members are subscribed while a further 4000 users are subscribed to the various GRASS user mailing lists.

The GRASS development team releases new versions regularly. A research team of software engineers in Canada has implemented a real time source code quality monitoring system which will be made available to other OSGeo projects as well.

Community members produce and publish books, tutorials, educational datasets and even merchandising.

Eds. Note: For more information on GRASS, visit Fondazione Mach  -  Centre for Alpine Ecology. Markus Neteler and Helena Mitasova have written a book on GRASS:

Markus Neteler and Helena Mitasova, 2008,
Open Source GIS: A GRASS GIS Approach. Third Edition.
The International Series in Engineering and Computer Science: Volume 773. 406 pages, 80 illus., Springer,, New York
ISBN: 038735767X | ISBN-13: 978-0-387-35767-6

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