There has never been a better time to start using QGIS! You may have already started using QGIS 3.4, you may have experience with older versions, or you may be familiar with other GIS software. QGIS is now at version 3.4. Like many other open source projects, QGIS offers you a choice between different releases.
Newer versions will include the latest release (LR), which is normally updated every four months, or the developer version (DEV) for which you can get nightly builds, if needed. While exciting, the DEV version should not be relied on for anything other than testing or inspecting new features.
QGIS runs on all operating systems; it is even possible to install it on a Raspberry Pi. The QGIS project provides ready-to-use packages as well as instructions to build from source code at http://download.qgis.org.
Learn about QGIS in this article by Andrew Cutts, a geospatial freelancer based in West Sussex, UK.
Features of QGIS
- Mitigated costs of launch and builds of satellites
- Mitigated cost of storage and enhanced computing power (utilizing the GPU)
- Enhanced scale of data processing, thanks to the cloud
- Provided easy access to AI / machine learning and deep learning (for example TensorFlow)
Running QGIS for the first time
In the recent years, QGIS has become the most popular open source desktop GIS software. Some people use it just to view and query data, while others use it for much deeper analyses. Maybe you are an ecologist or a town planner needing to use GIS as part of your job. You may have a background in proprietary GIS software and want to migrate some of your common workflows to open source, or you may be a student that needs to use GIS for a project.
The following screenshot shows how QGIS 3.4 will look when it is first opened. In this case, there are no recent projects here and the interface is uncustomized:
On the first run, not all toolbars are enabled. You can enable all the default toolbars (meaning the ones not associated with any additional plugins) via Toolbars in the View menu. Set up the QGIS environment according to your personal preferences via the Toolbars option shown in the following screenshot:
Plugins are a unique feature of QGIS. Plugins are available to be installed as you need them to enable further analysis. If what you want to do is not available within your current QGIS setup, search in the plugins as someone may have developed a tool to help you reach your solution. To access the Plugins, navigate to Plugins in the menu and then select Manage and Install Plugins:
By clicking on the preceding option, the following window will be displayed:
The Plugins window will display the number of plugins installed in parentheses. In the preceding example, 272 are shown. You can search for plugins in the search box, install or upgrade individual plugins, or Upgrade All. Plugins are activated by ticking the check boxes beside their names. In QGIS 3.4, an icon will appear in the bottom-right corner of the information bar if there are any updates available for your installed plugins.
What is new in QGIS 3
QGIS 3 has been ported to support Python 3, so if you are familiar with previous versions of QGIS, some of the older plugins may not be compatible. These will either have been updated or will be in the process of being updated, some are also obsolete (because their functionality is now part of QGIS core) or abandoned by the original developer.
In terms of the GUI, not a great deal has changed. If you have previous experience, it should be mostly familiar to you.
Some of the major changes that have taken place for QGIS 3 include processing in the background. This enables you to continue working while processing continues, rather than waiting for QGIS to complete tasks. The processing toolbox has been updated, meaning that many of the tools now execute faster than in QGIS 2.x.
There has also been a significant update in the way maps are authored and data is styledThere is a really useful search feature in the bottom-left corner of the QGIS information bar, allowing you to search for tools, layers, and features. Finally, QGIS now supports GeoPackage and is using it as its default GIS format.
What is often forgotten, or certainly not talked about enough, is the impact of open source software, and in particular open source GIS software. By far the most commonly used is QGIS. The amazing success of the open data policy of USGS/NASA and the Copernicus programme is in part due to the ability to consume this downloaded data in QGIS. The Semi Automatic Plugin does an amazing job at using this data.
When you see new companies showcasing their amazing Earth Observation applications, screen shots of QGIS are often seen. In larger companies more non specialists are downloading and installing QGIS – to view data initially – but the sky is the limit. If people with non GIS specific backgrounds use software like QGIS then that can only be a good thing.
If you found this article interesting, you can explore Learn QGIS – Fourth Edition to learn how to view, edit and analyse geospatial data using QGIS and Python 3. Learn QGIS – Fourth Edition will help you get started on your QGIS journey, guiding you to develop your own processing pathway.