Geographic information systems, or GIS technology can be used for a wide variety of applications.

As GIS technology continues to evolve, one question that is often asked is “which GIS is best”? Two popular GIS’s are QGIS and ARC. Choosing between them can seem difficult, but its my belief that the main aspects of your choice will boil down to personal preference and price.

Choosing a GIS – QGIS vs ARC

Because GIS technology has become such an integral part of modern industry, it is important to choose the right platform. Though many different GIS platforms exist, the two most popular options are QGIS and ARC. Quantum GIS, or QGIS, is an open source program while ArcGIS is proprietary software. Below you will find a comparison of these two platforms in several key categories: price, interface, load time, and strategic.


For many companies, price is a major determining factor when it comes to choosing a GIS platform. GIS technology is much more affordable than it used to be.

When it comes to comparing QGIS and ArcGIS, QGIS is the more affordable option.

  • QGIS is free.
  • ArcGIS is available as a trial and then you must license it – the fee varies depending on the modules you choose, and the purpose you’re using Arc for. SOme very affordable options exist for some categories of users.

qgis interfaceFigure 1: The QGIS interface


Another important factor to consider when choosing a GIS platform is the interface and how easy it is to use. I am of the belief that any GIS you’re unfamiliar with will be tricky to use at first, and judging this aspect of QGIS vs Arc will be biased by any reviewer’s history. So, I suppose, its up to you as the user to evaluate which niterface you relate to the best.

Load Time

When it comes to load time, QGIS loads quickly and in a similar way to other programs (like Microsoft Word) while the ArcGIS software loads with past projects instead of a blank project. Arc’s search for past projects makes it a little slow to load.

arcgis interfaceFigure 2: The ArcGIS interface


One very important consideration is how difficult it would be to “change course” years  down-the-track once the GIS you choose has become entrenched in your organization – the larger your organization, and the greater the number of GIS users there are, the harder it will be change. That is because your GIS will become integrated with other software in your organization and staff get used to the way it works. My advice is to be sure to speak to other organizations of similar size and using GIS in similar ways to what you intend to, before you make your decision. Its also important that the organizations be close-by if possible. That is because you’er likely to be using maps and data from similar providers and getting support from the same place.


Well, I suppose that my comparison of QGIS and Arc may seem a little “beige” (non-committal). That’s because I truly believe that both QGIS and ArcGIS are high-quality GIS technology platforms. Accounting for each’s plugins and modules, both have similar functionality.  Both have been around for a long time and both have loyal supporters. A good operator will get similar results from either GIS, so for most people, the choice between the two will boil down to personal preference and price. Additionally, you should speak to GIS-locals to gain insights (good and bad) into their experiences with the GIS they use.



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