How to decide: go open source or commercial GIS?

You want a tool for creating, editing and analysing geographic information for location insights, but with so many GIS packages available it’s hard to decide what software is best for you. Here we navigate the differences between two of the best- known GIS platforms, ArcGIS and QGIS.

Esri’s commercial software, ArcGIS is industry standard and provides enterprise-level support and sophisticated spatial data analysis tools for both basic and more advanced applications. You also have the option of using open source software like - QGIS, which offers an array of free and versatile spatial analysis tools.

Comparing open source software, QGIS to Esri’s, ArcGIS can be broken down into three components: pricing, functionality and support.




The ArcGIS suite is a paid software package that needs licensing to operate. Esri offers a large suite of products for all spatial analysis and location intelligence needs, but it is pay to play. In contrast to Esri’s products, open source QGIS is available for free online.


ArcGIS provides basic through to advanced geoprocessing tools for spatial data analysis. ArcGIS masks the complexities of these tools with their applications, such as ModelBuilder. These applications make the software more intuitive and easier to use for creating, editing and analysing data. ArcGIS also provides licensed users access to a vast amount of base maps, government data and crowd-sourced information. Esri’s large enterprise-level ecosystem allows users to seamlessly and securely integrate with other applications, such as SAP. This enhances users ability to provide business insights within a GIS context, across the entire business.

QGIS comes with all standard GIS analysis tools, similar to the introductory tools offered in ArcGIS, however unlike ArcGIS there are no licensing levels preventing users from accessing advanced tools. Complex spatial analysis can be integrated into the QGIS software through additional online plugins and extensions, built by the developers community, such as other open source GIS packages, PostGIS and MapServer. However, because the software is free, these can be difficult to manage at times and unstable.


ArcGIS comes with enterprise-level technical support. Esri’s maintenance program gives users unlimited access to their E-Learning platform to improve your skills, 24/7 technical support via telephone, email or chat and passes to the Esri User Conference. Esri holds an Australian user group OzRI, which offers an unparalleled experience where the latest features and trends are demonstrated first hand. OzRI is the largest GIS conference in Australia with sessions in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Open source software, QGIS offers support and user-generated help files for GIS issues through an online community forum. Volunteers maintain QGIS through regular updates and an issue tracker addressing bug fixes, core contributors can also offer commercial support. The #qgis on Stack Exchange and #qgis channel on also provide an abundance of user solutions. QGIS holds volunteer-run user groups internationally that discuss new information and case studies for QGIS usage.


Both ArcGIS and QGIS can be challenging tools to use if you’re not familiar with them. However, training is available...

NGIS provides many training courses across a range of building tools in ArcGIS for introductory level and advanced ArcGIS users. These courses provide users with the skills to use the ArcGIS package competently. NGIS also offers training for the fundamentals of QGIS. This one-day course covers all the necessary skills to begin creating, editing and managing the QGIS software.

To find out more, check out our Esri technology page or look up our training courses.


About the author: Jaimee Nobbs

Jaimee is former Marketing Coordinator at the NGIS Group.

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