Windows users who need a full featured GIS platform can benefit from the fruits of open source software and choose Quantum GIS. The latest version, 1.6.0, will be released in a few weeks. And the preview is already available to download and install.
QGIS now offers better labeling, a richer set of map composer tools, and easy to use editing of vector layers. The plugin architecture gives more demanding users access to over 100 python based advanced analysis and support tools. And new plugins continue popping up like mushrooms after the rain. Furthermore QGIS supports, by way of the ubiquitous GDAL library, almost the whole gamut of spatial data formats, from the well known shapefile, google’s *.kml as well as *.gml, OpenStreetMap‘s *.osm files, and the new kid on the block: spatialite. The spatially enabled database, PostGIS is fully accessible and managed right from within QGIS. Among the raster formats are of course GeoTiff, ASCII grids, and ERDAS img files. The more complex digital elevation model and weather data such as Hierarchical Database Format – *.hdf – sometimes used by NASA, the USGS *.dem format, and raw SRTM *.hgt files have support built-in.
What’s missing? The very popular “wavelet compression” imagery formats, ERDAS ECW and LizardTech’s MrSid are both proprietary, and their licensing does not allow free redistribution. Thus QGIS cannot have *.ecw support right out of the box. However ERDAS does offer free download of their Software Development Kit (SDK), which gives readonly access to *.ecw compressed imagery, provided you agree to their licensing.
So to get QGIS up and running, including ECW support, here’s what you need to do:
Start by browsing to the ERDAS download site. After accepting their licensing terms (requires responding to an email), you’ll be able to get the SDK. Follow the straight-forward instructions here to run the SDK installer, and then copy the required DLL’s into your \windows\system32 directory.
Now go to the QGIS download page and get the OSGeo4W installer. This installer is not a “next->next->next” standalone installation, but rather a framework for getting (and later updating) lots of GIS software. Note that it requires an internet connection to bring down all the software. (Although it is possible to download the collection of installations on one internet connected computer then copy the whole installation directory and run it locally on another disconnected machine…)
Once you start osgeo4w-setup.exe at the first screen be sure to choose “Advanced Install”. There are a few more windows where you set download location, and final installation path. You can leave the defaults. Then, after it gets the list of available packages, you’ll be presented with a window containing five categories of software. Expand (click the ‘+’) the Desktop category and click on qgis-dev (click on the circular arrow symbol to toggle to install) as well as gpsbabelfe.
Next expand the Libs section. Scroll slowly down the list, and again click on the double arrow symbol to install each of the following (I’m including several python packages that are required for some plugins you might want later on):
Assuming you don’t need any of the web applications, click “Next” to start the download and installation. The process takes some time, and on completion you’ll have icons on the desktop to run QGIS (as well as gpsbabel to connect to a GPS, and GRASS for heavy-duty raster and vector analyses).
Startup QGIS, and under the “Raster” menu select the “Information” tool. Click “Select” to browse to a *.ecw file, and then click OK, and you should see in the “Raster Info” window the format and CRS details about the selected file.
It’s worth mentioning that QGIS is under rapid development. You can rerun the osgeo4w-setup.exe any time in the future to identify and install updated packages.
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