ISU Headlines

Mapping software developed by Idaho State University, USU is international hit

Posted March 19, 2010

Geographic Information System (GIS) software MapWindow GIS developed by faculty and graduate students in the Idaho State University geosciences department and from Utah State University is proving to be an international hit:  it has been downloaded more than 260,000 times from users throughout the world and has 9,000 registered users.

This free, open-source software is so popular that the ISU geosciences department will host the 1st International MapWindow GIS Users and Developers Conference March 31-April 2 at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. At least 60 users and developers from around the world are expected to attend the conference. Attendees include representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several private companies and universities. 

“It’s been great to see the growing interest in this software,” said Dan Ames, ISU associate professor of geosciences who leads a team of programmers working on MapWindow GIS. “MapWindow is unique in that it provides software developers tools that they can use to build their own map-enabled software, and they can do this free of charge since the tools are all open source.” 

Ames, with the help of several master’s degree and doctoral students in the ISU Geospatial Software Lab at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies at University Place in Idaho Falls, developed the software that joins the multibillion-dollar worldwide GIS industry. MapWindow is used to view and analyze computerized map data. The software can be used to make maps of environmental, political, social, economic, or any other spatial data and has a set of add-ons specifically for water resources and hydrologic analysis.

The project started under funding from the Idaho National Laboratory at Utah State University in the late 1990s, then was taken over by ISU 2004. The product was first made available as free, open-source software in late 2004, and 10,000 copies of it were downloaded by July 2006. The products popularity has grown exponentially since then.

Commercial GIS software capable of this type of data analysis has been available since the 1980s. However, the commercial software is typically expensive for the average user, costing as much as $5,000 – $15,000 for a single license. The ISU MapWindow GIS tool is unique as a free “open source” software package. This means that, like the popular open-source Linux operating system, MapWindow GIS is available for no charge, and users are free to manipulate or change the source code to improve it or modify it as needed. The software is also unique in the world of GIS as it is the only fully Microsoft Windows-based, open-source GIS software available for use on personal computers.

The creation of the successful special mapping software is a surprise byproduct of the offering of ISU’s new master’s degree program in Geographic Information Science that was begun in 2004 and is offered in Pocatello, Boise and Idaho Falls. Graduate students in the new program worked on creating the MapWindow GIS software as part of earning their masters degrees.

More information about MapWindow GIS is available at the website www.mapwindow.org/.

More information about the First International MapWindow GIS Users and Developers Conference is available online at www.mapwindow.org/conference/2010/.

For more information on this software or the ISU GIS masters program, contact Ames at (208) 282-7851 or amesdani@isu.edu, or contact the ISU geosciences department, http://www.isu.edu/geology/.