35 years of Open Geospatial

A Brief History

This is a metaspatial production presented by:
Arnulf Christl / @sevenspatial

Reuse permitted under the Copystraight paradigm.

Arnulf Christl

Mission: Open Source innovation at a sustainable pace.


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  1. Software as an Afterthought
  2. The Evolution of Free Software
  3. What is GIS?
  4. The History of Open Geospatial
  5. Founding OSGeo
  6. Open Data
  7. How does it all tie together?
  8. SplashMaps
  9. Summary

Software as an Afterthought

The First Digital Computer

The first digital computer was built by Konrad Zuse and Helmut Schreyer in 1941. It literally weighed a ton...

Image of the recreated Z3 computer built by Konrad Zuse in 1941

Replica of the Konrad Zuse Z3 Computer on display in Deutsches Museum, Germany.http://www.deutsches-museum.de/...


Computer hardware grew, ENIAC weighed 30 tons!

Photo of an engineer walking into ENIAC in 1951

An engineer walking into ILLIAC II at the University of Illinois.http://www.computersciencelab.com/ComputerHistory/...

HAL 9000

HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey

...in case you ever wondered why Stanley Kubrik designed a spacecraft computer you could walk into!

Courtesy by: THX Trailer


Google Data Center - Courtesy by cnet.com

...you can still walk in, now it is just called "cloud".

Image of a modded data center courtesy by: cnet.com


Photo of computer and electronic waste piling up

Image courtesy of Greenpeace

The late advent of Software

John W. Tukey in 1958 was the first author to use the term "software" (still in quotes) in the context of complementing computer hardware.

Today the "software" comprising the carefully planned interpretive routines, compilers, and other aspects of automative programming are at least as important to the modern electronic calculator as its "hardware" of tubes, transistors, wires, tapes and the like.

Source: http://www.linfo.org/software.html

Programming an Electronic Calculator

...required computers to plug cables and punch the right switches.

Photo of women engineers reprogramming the ENIAC

"Computers" (female programmers) plugging the ENIAC electronic calculator. Yes, meaning of words changes. Courtesy http://www.computersciencelab.com/ComputerHistory/...

The Future

HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey

HAL 9000 ... on the verge of Artifical Intelligence.

Image courtesy by: THX Trailer

Software is...

  • untouchable
  • unbreakable
  • does not wear
  • does not tear
  • is a virtual non-thing
  • does not need physical space
  • and most amazingly - It Multiplies when Shared!

Software is a Virtual Asset

Software is different because it can be duplicated.

Nina Paley's cartoon:
Copying is not Theft

Video courtesy of QuestionCopyright.org and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.


  1. Copy a piece of software.
  2. Now duplicate a brick.


The Evolution of Free Software

Basic Differentiation of Software

  • Operating System & Kernel
  • "User Land" Software
  • Embedded Systems
  • Web Applications
  • Apps


The history of Unix dates back to the mid-1960s.

Ken Thompson Dennis Ritchie

At the Bell Labs Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie built on the origins of Unix and in the 70s rewrote it in C.

Source: Wikpedia, photo courtesy of Wired.

The Antitrust War I

US antitrust regulators sued IBM for improper "tying" of software and hardware in 1969. Although the case was dropped by the US Justice Department after many years of attrition as "without merit", IBM started the age of selling software.

...but Ken Thompson kept on shipping Unix code to interested parties.

The Antitrust War II

In 1983, the U.S. Department of Justice settled its second antitrust case against AT&T and broke up the Bell System. This relieved AT&T of the 1956 consent decree that had prevented them from turning Unix into a product. AT&T promptly rushed to commercialize Unix System V, a move that nearly killed Unix.

...but in the same year the GNU Project was founded by Richard Stallman.

Free Software

In the 1980s Richard Stallman announced the GNU project, saying that he had become frustrated with the effects of the change in culture of the computer industry and its users.

Richard Stallman

Source: Wikpedia article.

The Freedom in Free Software

A program is free software if the program's users have the four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Source: The Free Software Definition

Around the same time...

...the Dark Lord started to ship software with the hardware:

Mughsot of Bill Gates' arrest in Abuquerque, New Mexiko

Bill Gates

Source: Wikpedia

Proprietary Development Model

Proprietary Softwre Development Model

Source: FOSS4G: Introduction to Open Souce Geospatial Software by OSGeo

Free and Open Source Software Development

Free and Open Source Software Development Model

Source: FOSS4G: Introduction to Open Souce Geospatial Software by OSGeo

The License Hell

Proprietary licenses build on the concept of "Intellectual Property" and are exclusively designed to limit the freedom of the user and to maximize the vendor's revenue. In most cases the vendor is not the active developer of a software but an exploiter of manpower.

It became incredibly popular because it scales perfectly and almost infintely.

End User License Agreement

Beware of those who want to make you click-through!

Watch Nina Paley's animated cartoon explaining
End User License Agreements.

Video courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Nota Bene

  • Open Source and Free Software can be used (almost) synonymously.
  • Most Free Software is also used commercially.
  • The opposite of Free Software licenses are proprietary licenses.
  • Free Software is not viral but a vaccine to protect the user's freedom to use software.

What is GIS?

The Acronym GIS

...translates into: Geographic Information Systems. It comprises a whole species of software for:

  • Raster and vector data capturing
  • ETL (Extract Transform Load)
  • Analysis
  • Presentation
  • Map generation

GIS Evolution

GIS has diversified into client/server systems and lightweight applications, moved to the clouds, and is being implemented by crowds, ...

  • SDI (Spatial Data Infrastructure)
  • Point clouds (LiDaR - Light Detection and Ranging)
  • 2D, 2.5D, 3D, 4D, 5D, nD)
  • Augmented Rrrreality
  • Crowd Sourcing
  • ...and many more

More GIS...

Please come back later. This part is still under construction...

The History of Open Geospatial

The Roots & Open Standards

More details and links can be found on the OSGeo Wiki - Open Source GIS History.


The need for Open Standards was the result of working with pioneering software development in the geospatial realm.


1982: The Geographical Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) project is started with funding from the US Military.

Development is ongoing to the day!


The real issue for both groups are not implementing the algorithms but ETL'ing the plethora of proprietary data formats.

The Open Geospatial ...

  • 1994: As a result a group of enthusiast start the
    Open Geospatial Foundation.
  • 1995: renamed into the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) as we know it today to accommodate the needs of the industry, at that time mostly proprietary vendors.

M.O.S.S. and GRASS almost Die

In the wake of the standards efforts, work on M.O.S.S. and GRASS come to a standstill.

The Savior

The Internet

Invented in the early 90s by Sir Tim Berners Lee, initially the Internet was used by researchers and freaks (nowadays we call them "Early Adopter"). By the 2000s the Internet has become a viable option for distributed computing. This is the real turning point for Free and Open Source software! There are two main reasons:

  1. Code sharing is easy, cheap and fast.
  2. Email and IRC communication is almost instantaneous.

GRASS revived

Thanks to Markus Neteler (and the Internet) GRASS is resurrected in 1998 after free-floating in stasis for a while.

Photo of Markus Neteler working on his laptop computer at a code sprint

The Internet and Geospatial

The ubiquitous availability of the Internet starts a whole new era of Openness.

Founding OSGeo

My private, little Open Source story

  • 1998 Foundation of CCGIS as a one-man-show
  • Start of the development of Internet Map Servers.
  • Making business by implementing specific GIS applications.
  • 2002: The German cadastral software SICAD is sold to AED, which was previously acquired by ESRI.
  • As a result ESRI takes over the German cadastre.
  • Suddenly SICAD partners are ESRI partners?!?
  • Implementation cost using ArcObjects not viable.
  • Looking for alternatives (Intergraph, Autodesk, MapInfo, etc.).
  • The solution: MapServer running on FreeBSD (a free UNIX), later PostGIS, etc.
  • 2003: Consequently our geoportal software Mapbender is released as Free Software.
  • 2005: Wikipedia meets in Frankfurt, first interest in maps.

It All Works Out Just Nice?

  • The software is good and tested.
  • We have achieved a high level of quality.
  • Businesses have emerged around the projects.
  • Training, services and SLAs are offered.
  • ...

All great. Yeah. But...

The Need for a Foundation

  • There is no trust - yet.
  • Businesses are too small.
  • There is no advocacy.
  • No serious marketing.
  • ...

And prorietary vendors give us a hard time.

The Open Source Geospatial Foundation

In 2005 the MapServer community starts a dialog how a foundation might look like. There are many good discussions.

  • Who owns this Open Source Software?
  • What's in a name?
  • What does good Open Source practice really mean?
  • How much "control" does a software development team need?
  • Java/C++: Who is Friend who is Foe?
  • Can there be more than one Best Ever software?
  • and so on...


After thoroughly debating and answering these important questions the Open Source Geospatial Foundation
is born in February 2006:

It is an umbrella organization of initially eight Open Source software projects including GRASS. Now we are unstoppable.

Geospatial Open Source Software

Seven Open Source Geospatial Software Projects emerge:

By 2006 stable communities have formed around them.

The Structure of OSGeo

Structure of OSGeo (2011)

Source: OSGeo's Structure

OSGeo Live: 50+ Solutions

Selected packages from http://live.OSGeo.org

Source: OSGeo's Structure


The most recent OSGeo initiative with has been launched together with the ICA is GeoForAll.

The goal of the initiative is to promote and enhance education and research for and with Open Source software and Open Data all around the world.

Open Data

Schuyler Erle

Your software is great. But it is worth nothing - without Data!

Read all the details about Open Data - Taming the Beast.

Learning Open Data Friendship

Open Data Friendship, also referred to as Beast Control or Beast Trick, is the Force ability to control data. Once calmed, the data can be used by the Force user in various ways, including as a service or INSPIRE beast.

Inspired by Star Wars, adopted for Data Wars

Where are we with Open Data?

Just across the chasm - or maybe not quite yet.

Crossing the Innovation Chasm

Public & Government Data

Data collected by the government shall be:

  • Freely accessible
  • Unencumbered by legal restrictions
  • Open for private and commercial use

The collection, maintenance and provision is funded by the public. Therefore It is a public good.

Community Driven Data

Typically volunteer driven and often Ad-Hoc collections of data.

  • Spatial data is collected and maintained by a crowd.
  • It shall be clearly licensed (but often is not).
  • Anybody can use, modify and redistribute.
  • Derived products (for example maps) may be copyrighted.
  • The data stays open and publicly avaialable.
  • Nota bene: According to Wikipedia the term crowdsourcing is nowadays used in a different context.

How does it all tie together?

OpenStreetMap has an API

Screenshot of OpenStreetMap with overlay using the API

But OpenStreetMap also has Data!

Usage of the data is regulated by the ODbL license:

  • Use of the data is free and open for anybody
  • Use of the map service is gratis (but limited)
  • Setting up your own servers is encouraged
  • The source of derivative works must be made available on request (see licensing)

Ordnance Survey Great Britain OpenSpace (API)

Screenshot of Ordnance Survey data through the API

OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey, ++

So why not download all of this great data...

  • VectorMap District© from Ordnance Survey Great Britain
  • Ways, footpaths, rivernames, pubs from OpenStreetMap
  • Rights of way from municipalities
  • Designated offroad bicycle tracks
  • The hills database
  • ...plus many more sources...

...overlay and individually style them on an Open Source software stack (PostGIS, MapServer, Mapbender)...

Screenshot of Ordnance Survey and OpenStreetMap data with individual styling

...and print the result on fabric: SplashMaps - For the REAL outdoors!

Photo of a SplashMaps fabric map with Open Data: washable, wearable and waterproof maps for the REAL outdoors


Slide content courtesy of David Overton


  • What’s a SplashMap?
  • How did we get started?
  • What have we learnt
  • What we’ve achieved
  • Preparing for the next stages
  • Make-a-Map
  • Advancing with Crowd Funding?

Slides courtesy by David Overton

What’s a SplashMap?

SplashMaps are REAL outdoor maps
designed for clarity and accuracy.

They are:

  • Washable
  • Wearable
  • All-Weather

...fabric maps.

This is a SplashMap!

Picture of a packaged SplashMaps

The Brand

The SplashMaps brand focus:

  • About simple, practical navigation
  • About the REAL outdoors
  • About exploiting trends in Data
  • About Innovation in product & service design

How did we get started?

image of the SplahsMaps KickStarter website

What have we learnt

Challenges of a REAL outdoor spec.

  • Ink & Materials (Faux Silk, Satin, Polyester, etc.).
  • License for 1:25k topographic map.
  • Data Integration & Styling for Open Data from Ordnance Survey, OpenStreetMap, National Park Administrations, and many more...).
  • Physical design of map and map key.

The Design Challenge

Image of original design ideas

Maps for the outdoors are a design challenge - especially when it comes to a product that needs explaining.

What else have we learnt?

There are challenges of getting it known! Marketeers needed!

  • Reviews
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Internet
  • Social Networks
  • Events
  • Trade shows...

What we’ve achieved

Great following, broad distribution!

  • Participation
  • Prizes
  • Retail presence
  • Tie-ins
  • Awards
  • Dedicated events

Image of SPlashMaps users, followers and fans.


Make your own map. And make it dead simple to make:

  1. Type in a Great British postcode or a place name.
  2. A red square highlights the area covered by the map.
  3. Move the map until it is exactly where you want it to be.
  4. Choose your size & scale and give it a memorable title.
  5. Choose how many you want and add them to your cart.

SplashMaps Make-A-Map

Example On-Demand Maps

Photo of several On-Demand ordered SplashMaps

The Big Stories

  • 7 of the 14 National Parks in Great Britain sell SplashMaps through their visitor and tourist information centres.
  • We sell through the most respected map shop in London, Stanfords.
  • We started with 1 map at the beginning of 2013, we now provide 35 maps covering all the most popular outdoor adventure locations in GB.
  • We've developed standard, tailored and bespoke propositions and sold each
  • We've combined open data from 4 different sources (Open Street Map, Ordnance Survey, The Foresty Commission, Local Authorites)

SplashMaps on Display at Stanfords

Screenshot of the Stanfords website displaying SplashMaps

Stanfords: Explore, Discover, INSPIRE

Tailored Maps

SplashMaps are tailored for specific events.

  • Isle of Wight Cycling Festival 2013
  • Nightrider London 2013
  • Helsinki 19th Century Historic maps
  • Tour de France UK 2014
  • Get your own tailored map

(...now is a good time to hand around the Isle of Wight map)

Preparing for the next stages

Our Mission:
We will grow a mapping business that exploits the freedom of data to tailor maps which, to their very fibre, are designed for the REAL world.

Optimize workflow

Diagram of the SplashMaps production workflow

(...and learn proper British spelling)

Acquire Funding

In orer to reach our goals we need to scale up:

  • Production system
  • Packaging
  • Marketing at global level

To this effect SplashMaps has acquired new funding and partners with businesses in the map making and data asquisition business, and even the chemical industry to help develop flexible displays.

Feel free to contact David Overton, CEO of SplashMaps


Geospatial Openness comes in three complementing tastes:

  • Open Standards
  • Open Source Software
  • Open Data

There are a lot of new business opportunities

SplashMaps is just one (somewhat exotic) example of the great things we can do these days with Open standards, software and geographic data!


Thank you for your Attention

A Brief History of Open Geospatial

Presented by Arnulf Christl of metaspatial


This presentation is available at: http://metaspatial.net/conferences/open-geospatial-history.html