Geographic information systems, or GIS technology can be used for a wide variety of applications. When choosing a GIS, one question that often gets asked is “which GIS is best”? For many people it simply comes down to QGIS vs ARCGIS. Choosing between them can seem difficult, but its my belief that the main drivers for your choice will be your personal preference and budget.

Choosing a GIS – QGIS vs ARCIS

Because GIS technology has become such an integral decision making tool, it is important to choose the right one. There are many different brands of GIS software. Two of the most popular are QGIS and ARC. Quantum GIS (QGIS), is Open Source software while ArcGIS is proprietary software. Below are four ways to compare of the two GISs: 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 that in assessing which interface is better, the answer to QGIS vs ArcGIS will be biased by the reviewer’s history.  So, whatever reviews you read, in the end it is up to you as the user to evaluate which interface 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 can make it a little slow to load.


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 you’re seeking advice from are geographically close-by if possible. Because you’re likely to sourcing GIS maps and GIS support from the same providers, the advice you’ll get from them is likely to be more relevant. For example, GIS map transfer can still occasionally be a problem, especially when they’re provided as CAD files. It could be a real pain if your GIS (whether that be ARCGIS or QGIS) cannot easily import maps from your provider.


Well, I suppose that my evaluation of the QGIS vs ArcGIS question may seem a little “beige” (non-committal). That’s because I truly believe that both QGIS and ArcGIS are high-quality GIS technology platforms. So long as you use the QGIS long term release version, you’ll find both GISs to be as stable as each other. 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 answer to the QGIS vs ArcGIS question 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.



    2 replies to "QGIS vs ARC GIS"

    • Tomas

      Really? Could you please tell me, why did you choose image of ArcGIS interface 10 years old?

      • Ian

        Hi Tomas

        Yep. Point taken. I’m no longer an active ARC user, so fixed and thanks for the feedback.

        The thesis remains though. These days the choice is very much situational dependent and I see more and more of my clients using QGIS. Open Source software has really caught up with commercial software in the last few years. For many years I tried using QGIS and GRASS on various hardware platforms. They both always showed promise but were always flakey (especially GRASS). And then within a relatively short time they became stable and really useful tools in my consultancy kit. It was only once they stabilized that I felt confident enough to take the time to re-write and adapt some already-written beginners level GIS courses to QGIS.



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