uDig, first impression

clip_image001We’ve already taken a look at other open source tools in the GIS area, including Qgis and gvSIG, apart from non-free programs we’ve tested before. In this case we will do the same with User-Friendly Desktop Internet GIS (uDig), one of those who come in PortableGIS.

The place where did it come from

uDig is a construction from Refractions Research company, who after winning a major prize sponsored by GeoConnections, invested in this and other developments. The uDig license is GNU LGPL, the same company who’s owed the development of PostGIS and significant contributions to Geoserver.

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Features

It is an exquisite development, breaking many traditional tools conventions, with a face like Qgis. In its features it can be included:

  • Built in Java under the Eclipse framework (like gvSIG)
  • The freedom to configure the interface is enviable, being able to drag windows almost everywhere, running them in the background, internal and external drag, minimize them to buttons and modify freely frames’ edges.
  • The speed of execution is very good (despite being on Java, I have tried from an Acer Aspire One with Windows XP) runs on Linux and Mac, obviously with better performance.
  • As for reading vector formats, it is limited with discrete files (it doesn’t read dgn, kml, dxf or dwg) but it does with the smoked ones (gml, xml). The only traditional single file read is shape file.
  • With raster images also has its limitations, but you can paste to wms services and other online services.
  • For each database it is robust, ArcSDE, DB2, MySQL, Spatial Oracle, PostgreSQL / PostGIS and WFS, so that in some of these can integrate the vector data not log in a conventional way.
  • clip_image004 The grid, scale bar and legend are integrated as layers. This is interesting because they aren’t interface deployment capabilities but of the data. Even though its configuration is rather complicated (at first view)
  • It has features that make it practical, such as:
    copy/paste of features (like Manifold GIS)
    -paste like xml in notepad
    very practical thematic symbology with alerts to avoid problems with color blind, CRTS monitors, projectors, LCD monitors, printing color and photocopying.
  • It is interesting that this tool usually comes with a structured example which includes a Canada community and a global database of cities, countries, time zones and satellite images. This strategy is very good to understand its capacity at the time of seeing it for the first time, strategy that should be take into account by other programs that are downloaded, installed and generate the big question And now what**** do I do with these clip_image005buttons?
  • The search for online updates is another handy feature that other projects should consider. In this, somewhat similar to gvSIG, there is a barrier in the first view. This is because the richness in the extensions does not have enough marketing or lacks a common thread to promote its usefulness (and in that case official status). At least with this online upgrade (which doesn’t have gvSIG), after a few minutes of download I can see many skills it receives in Grass JGrass, SEXTANTE, Horton Machine extensions and from Axios in hydrological applications, 3D models, GPS interaction raster and vector.

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Disadvantages

clip_image007uDig does interesting things, like Qgis is complemented by JGrass, but as GIS solution it isn’t the best open source tool in terms of vector construction functionality and topologies management; it’s exceed by Qgis (which brings extensions) and gvSIG ( without extensions). Although it is mature, and has what the typical user might need, its potential is for a user with Java development capabilities; its Internet GIS approach makes sense for connecting to data and searching for updates but for publication it has little to offer (Yes it does Geoserver).

Read few CAD/GIS formats, it has failed in integrating community at gvSIG’s level, and in this, users demand and strategic alliances are an important engine to expedite the development, aspect which doesn’t seem to be getting the impetus of gvSIG (within Canada, but not globally).

The fact of breaking schemas makes them losing a couple of points, because many users get out of control at the beginning (in projects management, catalogs and perspectives). It retrieves these points by the simplicity that has once known the way they operate, although in Java scalability philosophy it must be cared balance for basic version plus extensions (which makes sense) not resemble (in its free evolution) a Christmas tree to which you hang many figures so that one day we lose, or harmony, or symmetry or timeline.

Not so well known is one big disadvantage (that happens to many others), be a solution for a selected group isn’t long-term guarantee, not in open source applications; consequently, little systematization of experiences and documentation, although it’s admirable its protocol for new decision-making. For a municipality, uDig could be a very functional solution, but support and training can be a complex problem (away from British Columbia), it seems much more practical for projects that will involve customization and with budget to sustain it (e.g. environment, vulnerability).

Besides the Peruvian potatoes project and what Axios reports, little has been heard from uDig in the Hispanic environment, continuity in this kind of solutions at country level depends on the implementation of migration policies towards free software, theme which runs very slow in Latin America.

The greatest disadvantage I see in uDig is its long term sustainability, the fact of being a tool supported by a private company created doubts on us and questions such as:

    • What if one day Refractions Research says costs are unsustainable for continuing support and development, who will?
    • Can the created community assist a global dynamic growth if there is a high demand?
    • Are there no other Open Source projects on Java / Eclipse that do the same, which seems to duplicate efforts?
    • Doesn’t it seem that free tools are strategies businesses that finally leave captive support?

Surely Open mark has very clear answers to the above, but it is worth thinking about sustainability, which in itself is complicated in free projects, because if we separate the technical and technological aspects that seem to work clearly, the financial aspect is questionable in the long term. Today we live in times when a hurricane makes global economic system collapse, a flying shoe (Spanish Idiom: zapatazo”) at a conference can trigger a war that ends with the good omens in a single day, the stock market’s crash below the acceptable limit makes great companies go to hell (Spanish idiom: “irse al carajo”) in less than an hour.

These things make us think that at such range (and yes that is so) of solutions that give complete freedom to man, endanger dispersion of effort and money (because ultimately it costs). Freedom can become so great that one day may be used to leave projects from other’s decisions that were not the original idea founders. In this regard, sure many have already written about it, but we must continue thinking of it carefully, remembering that one day it will be measure by the impact of investments and not by the egeomate (Spanish Idiom: “geofumada” in this case idea).

Conclusion

  • As development: very robust and practical, other projects should imitate ideas from here.
  • As a solution: it has major limitations when compared with others of its level (in a first view)
  • As project walks very slow and does not seem to hurry.
  • As you go testing the extensions, we can give the points that sum after the first view.

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