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A self-contained environment for open source geospatial tools

Our guest today is Astrid Emde. Astrid wears many hats, shuffling a day job as a Geospatial Expert at WhereGroup, where she advises on the building of geospatial stacks, and assists with training in getting others up to speed. She hails from Cologne, Gremany and has served the Open Source Geospatial Foundation since 2006 in a number of roles. Currently, she is the Secretary of, and stands on the OSGeo Board of Directors, as well as the Marketing Committee, and assists with the organization’s social media campaign.

The Open Source Geospatial Foundation

OSGeo is a global non-profit organization that has become a household name in the open source geospatial community. It serves as a hub for open source geospatial software, empowering contributors and clients alike. The organization is volunteer-driven, and focuses on furthering standards, software, data, science, and education in the world of GIS. 

OSGeo is founded and maintained by the very people that use it, promoting involvement in the many committees, chapters, initiatives, and events that make up the global element of the foundation.

The foundation considers itself a democracy in that it has its interests pretty equally divided between official OSGeo projects, and community projects.

They also hold “memorandum of understanding” partnerships with organizations like the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), Natural Earth, and OpenStreetMap. 

As far as the community goes, OSGeo has a wide reach.

In addition to the renowned FOSS4G conference, which OSGeo hosts in a different country each year, there are also opportunities to participate in smaller conferences and meetups hosted by one of the 60+ regional OSGeo chapters.

For those who wish to be even further involved, there are a number of committees that help further software inclusivity. Some standouts are the GeoForAll board, which assists with the mission of promoting open source in education; the Incubation Committee, which helps young projects get off the ground; and the UN Committee, which helps further the United Nations objective of embracing and implementing open source geospatial and mapping technology. 

OSGeoLive: A Portable Open Source Geospatial Solution

A major barrier for entry to many when considering open source geospatial software is the challenge of understanding which products will work for them, and the arduous process of installing, implementing, and testing all of the options out there.

OSGeoLive is the solution to this problem, offering a self-contained, bootable, open source geospatial environment, with over 50 preinstalled projects in the distribution. 

Based on Lubuntu, OSGeoLive can be deployed through an ISO on a USB drive or CD, or through a VMDK via a virtual machine. Compatible with Windows, Mac, and of course, Linux operating systems, the hassle-free environment is packed with a dynamic variety of programs, and even sample data (vector and raster) and documentation to help you hit the ground running. 

Some of the flagship applications included with OSGeoLive are classics like QGIS, GeoServer, GRASS GIS, PostGIS and PostgreSQL. These are only a sampling of the softwares available across the categories of desktop GIS, databases, web services, browser clients, and more.

A number of extras and bonuses are included on top of the base applications, such as libraries like GDAL and OGR, and even a fully functioning Python environment.

Jupyter Notebooks is even available to pair with packages like geopandas and fiona to facilitate quick visualizations while minimizing use of computing resources. 

When it comes to getting started, OSGeo has you covered there too. Each deployment comes with tutorials on using the technology, and the database software is even preloaded with sample data so that you can begin working immediately. 

If somehow OSGeoLive in all its glory is missing an element you need, you can always add it in yourself. The environment is compatible with all kinds of custom plugins, geoservices, OGC web services, and cloud optimized GeoTIFFs so you can build a better picture of the overall potential for a custom stack. This flexibility is ideal for those who want to get a better idea of how packages contained within the environment may interact with their own systems. 

The OSGeoLive Community

No one accomplishes anything alone, and the huge success of the OSGeo community and their software is a testament to that. As one of the core missions of the foundation is to further the adoption of open source software, an emphasis is placed on education, and participation in the larger project.

Understanding who is using OSGeoLive provides useful context for how it can be more broadly used.

The most common use cases are in education, workshops, and for previewing components before building them into an organization’s formal deployment.

In education and workshop scenarios, OSGeoLive is a fantastic option as there is practically no setup or implementation to be navigated.

Users can just plug in the loaded USB and get started

with their spatial analysis tasks, or follow along with a demo. For those who are using the deployment to test future integration with their own setups, the flexible and modular nature of the build helps decision makers test a wide range of scenarios with minimal overhead. 

In terms of who is creating OSGeoLive, one can look to the larger OSGeo community as the project is an amalgamation of official, and community driven projects. Each project also has a steering committee page which outlines the contributions of participating individuals. Contributors have a variety of backgrounds, and are not limited to those with software development experience.

Individuals outside computer engineering can assist with supporting tasks such as writing documentation, and testing new releases of OSGeoLive for interoperability

amongst included programs. Documentation is provided for all OSGeo programs, and is translated into a range of languages including Spanish, Japanese, and German, as well as several others. Contributors are recognized in the annual project report given at FOSS4G. 

For those looking for publicity for their new open source geospatial program,

OSGeoLive is a fantastic resource for getting your work into working hands.

There is a new version provided every year, generally after the annual Lubuntu release, and before the FOSS4G conference.

In order to be included, one must go through the application process.

This involves writing a shell script for installation, providing source code on the OSGeo GitHub, and writing both overview, and quick start documentation to support the setup and use of the program. The 2019 distribution of OSGeoLive had 30,000 downloads, keeping in mind that one download does not equal one installation due to the middle man of USB drives, this is remarkable exposure to your target audience. 

OSGeo and their projects like OSGeoLive continue to grow and stake their claims in the mapping technology space. Project metrics are provided via OpenHub. Resources are available to learn more about how you can kickstart your open source experience, and downloads are, of course, free. 

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.