Skip to main content
University of Texas University of Texas Libraries

Install GIS Software

This guide provides instructions for installing and configuring all 3 major GIS software applications(ArcMap, ArcGIS Pro, and QGIS). It covers the similarities and differences of these applications and explains how to get started with common geospatial d

Intro to GIS Software

The Major GIS Applications

There are currently 3 major desktop GIS software applications (ArcMap, ArcGIS Pro, and QGIS) that are widely used in academia, private industry, and the public sector. They are referred to as "desktop" GIS software applications because they are designed for individual users on desktop/laptop computers as opposed to server GIS software applications which function quite differently. ArcMap is still perhaps the most widely utilized GIS application in the United States. It is a proprietary application developed by Esri that was first released in 2000 as part of the ArcGIS Desktop suite of GIS products. In 2015 Esri released a new application, ArcGIS Pro, which is envisioned as the future of the ArcGIS software suite. It features almost all of the capabilities of ArcMap, but has expanded functionality in a number of areas and is tightly integrated with Esri's cloud GIS platform, ArcGIS Online. As a result of its exclusive capabilities, ArcGIS Pro is becoming increasingly popular as users migrate from ArcMap.  Esri has promised continuing support of ArcMap for the near future, but it is recommended that new GIS users who are interested in learning to work with ArcGIS software start with ArcGIS Pro instead of learning the older ArcMap interface and workflows. The third major GIS software application currently in widespead use is QGIS which, unlike Esri's ArcGIS software options, is free and open source. QGIS has become an increasingly popular alternative to proprietary Esri software products due to its ease of adoption. In the United States, it is still not as commonly used by industry professionals as ArcGIS software, but is now widely utilized in Europe and many other world regions. All three of these GIS applications are extremely powerful for managing geospatial data, performing geospatial analysis, and producing maps but they do vary in significant ways as can be seen in the table below which provides a very summarized overview of their differences.

QGIS ArcMap ArcGIS Pro
Licensing GNU General Public License (free and open source) Proprietary software developed by Esri
Expensive for commercial use
Free for UT students, staff, and faculty educational use
Proprietary software developed by Esri
Expensive for commercial use
Free for UT students, staff, and faculty educational use
OS Compatibility Windows, MacOS, Linux Windows Windows
Capabilities 3D Visualization: good
Networks: poor
Cartography: good
Geospatial Analysis: good
3D Visualization: poor
Networks: excellent
Cartography: good
Geospatial Analysis: good
3D Visualization: excellent
Networks: excellent
Cartography: good
Geospatial Analysis: good
Cloud Integration Limited, allows for integration with 3rd party cloud platforms Good, well integrated with Esri's ArcGIS Online cloud platform Excellent, very well integrated with Esri's ArcGIS Online cloud platform
Community Support Still limited, but growing Extensive Still limited, but growing
Developer Support Good maintenance support
Active development of new functionality
Good maintenance support
Very limited development of new functionality
Good maintenance support
Very active development of new functionality

Whether you determine that ArcMap, ArcGIS Pro, or QGIS would be the best software for your particular use case, you will be glad to know that faculty, staff, and students here at UT Austin are fortunate to have easy access to all three applications for academic use (see https://wikis.utexas.edu/display/LAITS/ESRI+ArcGIS+-+FAQ for details about the campus Esri site license). If you are interested in installing GIS software on your personal computer you just need to click on the QGIS, ArcMap, or ArcGIS Pro links in the left hand menu to access application specific installation instructions. If you are on campus and just need GIS software to complete a simple assignment or want to gain familiarity with the basics of GIS, you can stop by the PCL Data Lab in 2.400a where you can use QGIS on any of the lab's 15 Mac computers or you can visit the PCL Computer Lab in 2.200 which has ArcGIS Desktop installed on all of its workstations. There are also other labs on campus with GIS software installed that are managed by individual colleges and departments.

GIS Questions?

Michael Shensky's picture
Michael Shensky

Ask a Librarian

Chat With Us

EID login required

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.