We’ve reached the end of FOSS4G 2011 in Denver, and I’m going to write down some thoughts after three days of sessions.
I’m going to try to do this without turning this post into a rant about some of the more traditional GIS software out there. It might be that I’m not originally coming from a GIS background, but digging through hundreds of lines of verbose XML config files is not really my idea of fun, and don’t get me started on SLDs. (<ogc:IsThisTagNameTooLongForYou>? Yes it is.). Don’t get me wrong, configuring and coding against GeoServer/GeoWebCache is way more productive than working with some of the legacy products we traditionally used, but it still feels too complicated.
The division between traditional and modern is hardly specific to GIS, but rather something we see all across the board: traditional, big, monolithic chunks of software, expecting your full attention and demanding complex setup and configuration to get started, against the new philosophy of sane defaults without configuration, the simplest thing that could possibly work, and customization through extensibility and integration. Compiled, strictly typed languages against the scripted, untyped ones. RDBMs against NoSql, and so on.
Since much of my prior contact with Open Source GIS has been with OGC standards, WMS, WFS, SLD and the software on the more traditional end of the scale – GeoServer, GeoWebCache, GeoTools – I had the picture of open source GIS as unnecessarily heavyweight and complex for many uses. (I don’t mean to be overly critic of the mentioned softwares – they are truely amazing tools, and great achievements in open source, my critique is more about how they and their APIs are packaged.)
From the projects being presented at FOSS4G 2011, there’s a huge push for the lightweight or modern approach. Every other session is talking about scripting, using Node.js, NoSql databases and it appears that even the core developers of GeoTools/Server are getting fed up with SLDs. That’s great news.
I’m going to follow up this with a post with specifics about some of the new projects I’ve run into during the conference.