Traditionally Geographic Information System (GIS) have been exclusively run on the Windows platform. Only very few applications run on either cross platform or exclusively on the Mac.
The idea behind a GIS is the linking of spatial content with table data. This ins beside the geographic and geometric information an object can have any additional information associated. For example a data set contains points for all the locations of School buildings in London. Get the data from the Guardian Data Blog for a real go at it with your GIS of choice. This is a list of Latitude longitude coordinates. Every such row can now feature additional information such as the name of the school, the number of pupils and whether it is a nursery, primary, secondary school or a university. The GIS allows to distinguish between these separate entities of information and perform tasks using this additional information.
Image taken from Wikimedia / The ultimate application of GIS in practice. E. W. Gilbert's version (1958) of John Snow's 1855 map of the Soho cholera outbreak showing the clusters of cholera cases in the London epidemic of 1854.
For example it is possible to query the table and only display the primary schools. With a further query the primary schools can be coloured in bands of pupil numbers, and so on. GIS is very flexible in the way it can hand this sort of data and most of the systems are modular where different modules can be added and upgraded. There is usually also the option to extend on the functionality by writing individual add-ons to perform very specific tasks.
The ultimate practical application for GIS is the discovery of the cholera source in London by John Snow in 1855. THe story goes that he was able to identify one single water pump as the source of the cholera outbreak because he mapped it out spatially and realised there was a cluster around one pump that must be causing the illness.
The dominating system is the ESRI platform offering the most complete set of tools and services ranging from mapping to mobile applications. The ESRI system however is so big and versatile, that it has grown a massive beast of an application capable of doing everything at the cost of manageability and simplicity. Handling and usability is very clunky and feels very much 1995. It is just about like Microsoft Word with terrible icon bars and millions of functions, you'll spend more time reading the helpful for individual tools than actually applying tools and functions.
Image taken from Cnet / Screenshot showing some of the Cartographica GIS windows.
With the location focuses move towards more spatial data and geographication of just about everything, GIS has risen to be one of the crucial applications, employed widely across disciplines and trades.
Especially recently there has been a push towards flexible GIS platforms, platform independent as well as web based. A number of these smaller applications have now grown up too and are capable of an impressive range of functions and getting very useful for spatial analysis of a good range of problems.
Cartographica is such platform and it is built exclusively for the Mac. It is one of the most up-to-date GIS's for this platform. It was first released back in 2008 and has seen since some updates running the current version 1.2.2. The market is very competitive, but Cartographica has secured itself a niche with the platform tie.
The functionality is covering a very good range for basic spatial analysis and functions ranging from simple displaying of geographical data including a range of projection transformation to performing of basic analysis such as density or querying to the export of data in a range of formats from shape files (ESRI file standard) to web based and KML, but also graphic formats such as jpg and Illustrator.
This is polished by a intuitive handling of the software as well as extensive data manipulation, including creation of data features. There is also a range of add on features such a the option to display geographical context or background information such as Bing aerial imagery or Open Street Map.
Image taken from Cartographica / They are offering also a brand new mobile app, running on iPhone and iPad.
This is about enough said about the functionality. If you need to have a look at a data set spatially this is what you want. Importing a table in a few clicks, project it correctly, pull in some context maps. Find the characteristics, adjust the graphics and export it as in a comprehensive way to share and communicate.
This is exactly what Cartographica does. And this is what a lot of us currently need. A comprehensive, but user friendly tool that does exactly what it says with no magic, but a lot of confidence. Of course there is a lot more to it and in two upcoming post the features and the handling is looked at in more detail. Look out for the posts on 'Import and Handling' and 'Styling and Export'.
Image taken from kelsocartography / Screenshot showing some of the Cartographica GIS windows.
The software is available form the web store at a price of $495 and as an academic student license for only $99 for one year. This is tremendously good offer, especially if compared to some of the other packages prices.