Published at 20:18 on 18 February 2015
I wanted to create a track to follow for my GPS based on property lines which are part of the public record. A little searching revealed that most GIS software can do this these days.
Years ago, I supported an installation of the GRASS GIS at the University of Washington. It was notoriously difficult to install and configure. About three years ago, I played with installing GRASS on my home computer, and discovered that it’s approximately as difficult to learn to use as it is to install. A pity, as it is free and by all accounts very powerful.
So I did more searching to see if someone had come up with an easier-to-use open-source GIS. Indeed they had, and it’s called QGIS. Actually, that’s only about half-true; from what I’ve been able to gather, QGIS is mostly a user-friendly front-end for GRASS.
And user-friendly it is. In an evening, I managed to import a bunch of GIS data available for free from my county of residence and use the resulting GIS project to draw and export the desired track to my GPS. It took a fair amount of web searches and searching through the documentation, I never did figure out how to import the road and place labels, and the process of exporting the GPS track was more than a little bit fiddly.
But no matter. In an evening, I managed to do what I had set out to do. That’s far more than I ever accomplished trying to bend plain old GRASS to my will.
No doubt a professional-grade GIS like ArcGIS would likely have been even more smoothly designed and documented. No matter. Professional GIS software doubtless costs thousands of dollars, an expense that cannot be justified just to occasionally create a GPS track.
Having something affordable (better yet, free!) which is usable by mere mortals is a major win.