QGIS 2.14 LTR – how Open Source works

QGIS 2.14 splash screen
QGIS 2.14 splash screen

Monday was an exciting day for open source geo geeks. The QGIS community announced the release of QGIS 2.14 LTR the latest and hopefully greatest QGIS release. You can get a sense of what the release contains by looking at the comprehensive Change Log.

When I started to look through the change log I couldn’t help but smile, it illustrated perfectly how the collaborative open source development and business model worked for the whole community. Let me remind you of Paul Ramsey’s wonderful summary of the open source model at FOSS4G 2013

‘You get what you pay for, everyone gets what you pay for, you get what everyone pays for”

Now look at that change log again and note the organisations that have sponsored each feature. You start to see how the community of users is supporting the developers to deliver the features that they need. Of course you can probably sponsor a feature in your favourite proprietary GIS desktop but I bet you will pay through the nose to get your feature prioritised and you will wait a lot longer than the 4 monthly release cycle of QGIS.

I know that budgets are tight, to  say the least, in local government and we often hear that one of the reasons for using open source is to reduce costs so it is particularly good to see that the ‘Trace Digitising Tool’ was sponsored by several of my friends within UK local government. Well done to them and to Lutra Consulting who worked on this feature.

On a personal note I was a bit chuffed to see that 2.14 is a Long Term Release

“LTR releases will be supported with backported bug fixes for one year, and will be in permanent feature freeze (i.e. no new features will be added, only bug fixes and trivial updates). Note that we are in discussion to extend the term of our LTR releases to two years, but for technical reasons we will not do this until QGIS 3.2.

The purpose of LTR releases is to provide a stable and less frequently changing platform for enterprises and organizations that do not want to deal with updating user skills, training materials etc. more than once per year.”

A year or so ago I was at a UK QGIS user day where the topic of stable releases came up in discussion. I set out the case for releases that were back supported for bugs for a longer period to support organisations that cannot keep upgrading thousands of desktops every few months. And here we are going into our second LTR, I’m not suggesting that the concept was down to me but it is nice to see a suggestion percolating through to delivery.

People often question whether an open source project can be as robust, functionally rich, innovative, user friendly (you can keep adding to the list) as a market leading proprietary product. There have been several evaluations of QGIS that compare it with market leading desktop GIS, usually these focus on the things that QGIS cannot do, so I found it quite fun to stumble on this post by Alexandre Neto “QGIS features I long for while using ArcGIS (aka features that ArcGIS users might not know exist)“. The gap is closing. This graphic from the AGI Early Careers Network shows that 53% of young GI professionals in the UK claim to be familiar with QGIS.

Jim Allchin of Microsoft described open source as an intellectual property destroyer (slide via Paul Ramsey). I think open source is doing a pretty fine job of building a community of creators and users, the only people who stand to lose out are those who want to continue relying on a proprietary model.

That's clear, thanks Microsoft

If you use QGIS, do you support it? Even if you aren’t able to sponsor the implementation of a full feature in the next release of QGIS you could make a small donation to the QGIS project. You know you want to.