Digital Geography

30. December 2014

Am I the only one?

There’s a lot of great stuff going on in the GIS community, both in proprietary software and Open Source as well as online services like MapBox, Mapillary, CartoDB to mention just a few.

For proprietary software a growing trend is that the licensing of the software is moving to the “cloud” and that one time payments are replaced by subscriptions or “tokens”. And why not, everybody and everything is online and most companies are guided by strict economic guidelines making regular monthly payments preferable to one-time investments, even if it in the end will cost you more.


In my professional line of work I need to use GIS inside secure networks, without Internet access… This is the only way to guarantee protection from hacker attacks etc, even if you really need to address a lot more security issues to be more or less safe.

Before you question the need for all this protection, lets just say that companies and organizations work with a lot of sensitive information that can not be allowed to leak. It can be company secrets, personnel or client information and even government intelligence, etc. In some cases the information is so sensitive that you can’t even talk about your needs with software company representatives.

So, what do you do when “online” is not an option? This question is unfortunately only part of the issue.

Complex licensing and lack of public information on actual costs for proprietary software systems are also a problem when weighing your options. For instance I challenge anyone to present what the actual cost is for ArcGIS Server, without talking to an ESRI sales representative.

For me, in my professional line of work, I’m more and more considering Open Source and building my own system for the GIS framework. One reason for this is the lack of public information on actual costs for proprietary systems, not the cost it self. By employing personnel (or consultant companies) with the right skills and background, I can even present a regular monthly cost for the implementation and support to the economists at work, which will please them.

Will Open Source be able to replace proprietary systems? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but for me and my organization the answer is probably YES on the server side, and “not yet” for all clients.

So, am I the only one?

If so you can disregard this post and go about your business. If not, it should be enough for the large proprietary software companies to reflect on their licensing. But I doubt it’s in their interest to present information on the actual cost for their systems, unless the customers demand it…

I’m not requesting lower prices! I’m asking for simpler information that makes it easier to compare capabilities and costs for different licenses and systems. Without it, it’s impossible to say which is more cost effective, proprietary software from one or another company, or even Open Source.

Let 2015 be the year the customer gets all the information required to weigh pros and cons when deciding on new GIS-systems.

Happy New Year!

  • Hunter J. Smith

    You’re definitely not the only one – as GIS moves more to SaaS and cloud, folks like me with the needs you described are feeling not only “oh no, not much of the current gen software can be used for my needs”, but also “if I stay here, and GIS as a field keeps advancing, I’m going to be a dinosaur in a few years.”

  • I agree with you on this. I think the pricing is always somehow hidden and it makes it hard to set a price for a service. Yet we need to haev a look on other vendors: check the pages of SAP, Oracle, IBM and others for “price tags”… You wont find some I think. In most cases they adress the big customer with complex or large IT infrastructures so they can sell the consultancy and software implementation as well. And you will only get a price when you “call them”… But also smaller vendors makes it hard with all their grades of usages (check cartodb with their five plans…). I like the idea to build the stuff by my own but this will also lead to some risks when it comes to finding suitable employees, technical support and system stability… Maybe you should extend the post and make some arguments about this as well.

  • Hi Klas, as discussed here it seems like US-based visitors will see prices when they visit the page for arcgis server pricing… I can’t as shown in this pic:

  • Duarte

    This is a practice that is shocking and contrasts hugely with consumer oriented laws. For instance, it is illegal to sell goods in a store that are not written and easilly accessible to consumers (at least in Portugal and probably EU). So this kind of lack of transparency in pricing in enterprise oriented goods and services really is hard to accept. It certainly does not serve the open market/competition pricing model. Doesn’t serve the customer that’s for sure.
    I use esri’s software, but find it incredibly expensive and prices vary between customers. This is not a good business practice and a bit hostile to customers. You feel that you need get leverage to be treated equally. Small(er) customers will struggle… in the end I think this will end up hurting esri as the GIS market is not that big and has fewer players that general IT consulting. Open Source really constrasts with its open minded business approach. It will be interesting to see how the market uptake of foss4g will evolve in the next few years.

    • Hi Duarte, thanks for your reply on this. But was it easy for you to find the pricing for this software in Portugal? I mean it’s already hard to find the price for a home use license in Germany. All I know is that it’s 100$ for US customers…

  • Tom Chadwin

    Adobe had gone down the same route, and although employers will want skills in those tools, QGIS and GIMP will simply increase their user base as a direct result of the SaaS licensing model.

  • Makani McDougall

    My company makes a less expensive easy to use ArcGIS Server alternative that works with all ESRI API’s and ArcGIS desktop