Good news for QGIS MapInfo users


So some good news for QGIS users who also need/want to use MapInfo.  QGIS via GDAL 2.0 can support MapInfo TAB file editing. In all older versions of GDAL there was only support for read and/or write but not both.

MapInfo TAB editing has been supported in GDAL 2 but up until this point QGIS has only be built against GDAL 1.xx.  GDAL 2.x is now the default GDAL release in OSGeo4w.

From Jurgen:

2.0.2 is now the default GDAL in OSGeo4W and the nightlies (qgis-ltr-dev,
qgis-rel-dev and qgis-dev) already picked it up.

With the next release the regular packages (2.14 and 2.8) will also be updated
to use it

Even if you don’t want to make the switch to full QGIS you can now use both bits of software and edit in both.

QGIS will still only support a single geometry type per layer so if you open a mixed tab file you will get the geometry type selector.  You can load the layer 3 times if you need the 3 different geometry types.

 

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Using QGIS in local government


Something that I always find interesting is how people are using different open source tools to get their work done.  This post attempts to outline how I/we are using QGIS at work for different projects.

Kerb mapping, condition, and defect pickup

This project is currently being done by a 67 year old foreman who has worked for the council for a very long time and has great knowledge of the town.   QGIS, with the main working layers stored in PostGIS, was setup so that he can:

  • Digitize kerb lines from aerial photos.
  • Split the existing kerb lines into segments depending on different asset rules.
  • Give each segment an overall condition rating.
  • Add defect points along the each kerb segment e.g. broken, lifted, etc,

Each defect point is snapped to the underlying  kerb line and chainages (distance along line) is generated using a update statement at the end of the project (could be done using a insert trigger if needed) using ST_line_locate_point(line, point).

Defect points coloured by risk captured against the kerb line

Overall QGIS has been great for this project.  The built in data entry forms have been a great help to allow fast and correct data entry. Each form has four drop downs all with present values and descriptions to aid in data entry.

Flood damaged claim maps

We recently suffered, like the rest of Queensland, some really major flooding which caused large amounts of damage to our road infrastructure. We got off pretty light compared to some places, nevertheless we still had a lot of damaged assets.  And so began the process of collecting data that could be used for state government funding claims.

Anyway, onto the QGIS bit.  QGIS was installed on one of the main engineers computers in order for him to make maps for each claim.  Having the ability for him to have one map window but multiple frames in the composer helped him to create multiple  views of the same data with ease.

In total there are 42 QGIS project files with a main project file which served the base layers to the other projects, using the cool Embed Layers and Groups feature.  This means any change in main base project was reflected up(down?) to the other projects next time they are opened.  The main project file has things like, property layer; normal road layers, with labels; road layer with roads for claims.   The other 42 projects have a filtered, and styled, road layer to only show roads in that batch, and its composers (print layouts).

Normally we would use MapInfo for this kind of thing but consider this: There are at least 3 print layouts per claim, each layout could have more then one map frame.  Now with MapInfo only being able to have a 1:1 ratio between the map window and the map frame in the layout you would need at least 3 map windows per claim.  Quick calc:

42 * 3 =  126+n map windows + 126 print layouts (n = extra map frames in layouts)

Each map window has its own copy of every layer, making change once apply every where changes hard.  This of course doesn’t apply to styles as they are stored in the .map (tab) file, but does for labels, style overrides, etc.   I’ll pass.

QGIS is no means perfect for printing or print layouts but the 1:N map window to map frame ratio worked really well for this project.  The styling options in QGIS also helped to change the display of the map depending on what was needed to be shown quickly, one even used the rule-based rendering.

You get the point.
Moving on.

Processing GPS photos with road chainages

This one I am quite proud of.  It’s nothing fancy but still saves a lot of time.  While not really QGIS only but a combination of QGIS+Spatialite it process GPS photos and assigns them a road name and chainage.

The issue: A large influx of GPS photos for the different flood damage projects and the need to process them quickly so that they got assigned to the correct road and chainage.  Now you can map GPS photos easy enough but then you still have to go to each one and assign a road name, chainage, and move it into the correct folder.  To hell with doing that by hand, this is why we invented GIS.

The result is a little (140 line) python script that:

  1. extracts the coordinates from each photos,
  2. finds the closest (within tolerance) road distance node (distance nodes are generated at 5m intervals along the road, around 800,000 in total for the whole shire),
  3. gets the road name, locality, and chainage for that node,
  4. creates a folder with that road name,
  5. renames the photo with {name} @ {chainage},
  6. moves it into the road name folder it is assign to.
  7. inserts a record for that photo into the spatialite database that can be viewed in QGIS.
The Spatialite database has a spatial index on the road distance nodes and with that in place it can process 148 photos in 8 seconds.  Not too bad at all. Now all we have to do to process the photos is stick them into a special folder and run process.bat.

Porting our planning scheme maps

I have been involved in creating, and maintaining, our planning scheme maps for the council.  It’s been a pretty fun project, apart from the constant moving target that is the state planning specifications, but I digress.

Planning scheme in QGIS

This project was done, and still is, in MapInfo. While there is nothing technically wrong with that, it has become a bit more of a pain to maintain then one would hope.  The planning scheme is not just one map but rather a series of different maps all with different scales and requirements.  I’m sure by now you can start to see the issues that can arise:

  1. No dynamic scale bar for layouts (not even a scale bar object rather just text and boxes made to look like a scale bar. With no group items feature moving these around is a pain).
  2. 1:1 map window to map frame means excessive map windows when the data is all the same with just different views.
  3. Legends don’t support ordering, adding items, or groups.
  4. With no embedding base maps feature like in QGIS it’s hard to change one thing and apply it to all the map windows/workspaces.
The specifications also ask for lines with symbols along them to show things like bikeways, footpaths etc, something that can’t be done in MapInfo, well it can by using the line style editor but I would rather stab myself in the eye.
The one thing I haven’t fully worked out how to do in QGIS yet is fully automate the printing process. Currently I open MapInfo using a batch file and pass it a workspace and MBX which prints the layouts and exits. I do this for each map type.    In QGIS I have a few options:
  1. Create a plugin that runs though each project and prints off its composers.
  2. Create a python script that runs from a batch file using qgis.core and qgis.gui QGIS python bindings.
  3. add a –code option to the command line of QGIS so that you could run: qgis.exe –noplugins –code “print.py”, which would open QGIS and run the python code and exit.
I’m yet to explore what option is the best for this project but I’ll get back to you on that.  Once I have the above issue sorted I plan on creating the maps in QGIS to see how it would turn out (time permitting)

Custom asset data collection program

This one would have to be my favourite.  I really love programming (most days), and being able to create our own data collection program using QGIS and MS SQL 2008 has been great.

While it is only very very young I’m already seeing some great potential.  Using an open source base (apart from MS SQL) has given us a lot of power, power to change stuff that we don’t like (which so far has been one minor bug), and the power to get exactly what we need.

I can’t talk about this project a lot as it is only very new and still only in design/testing/prototyping stage.

The main things for me are:

  • Ease of use. If I get asked how to do something over and over I have failed the users. And no 100 page training manuals.
  • Fast
  • No menus, or right-click menus! I’m a power user and even I hate navigating menus on a tablet.
  • Easy to build custom forms
  • Online/Offline syncing
  • Ease of use. Oh did I say this already!? Well it’s important.
  • Easy to configure by admins.
  • Limited use of dialogs. It’s NOT ok for an app to ask users to confirm 100 dialogs to do one thing.

Overall I think using QGIS and PyQt I can hit all the targets listed above quite well. In fact I know I can because I have already hit most of the them in the last couple of weeks.

Summary

So that is my list of QGIS uses in my local government situation, hopefully it wasn’t TL;DR and you found it interesting.  I’m sure there will be plenty more to add at the end of 2012.

New Tool: MapInfo to QGIS style converter


Hopefully this tool can be of some use to people, as I know it has been very helpful to me since I made it.

As I’m a pretty heavy QGIS user now, and my work place still stores most, if not all, of our data MapInfo TAB format, one  friction point for me using QGIS was having to restyle all the MapInfo layers.  If we only had a handful of layer this wouldn’t be such a pain but we have a lot of tables and it would take me months to go though each one manually and style them.

I thought “there has to be some way I can automate this…” and so the MapInfo To QGIS Style Generator (or mapinfoToQgis.py) was born. Knowing that QGIS uses QML (a XML file format) to store it style information, and that MapInfo was able to export a style string for each object, I compared what QGIS generated for its QML using the same symbol I picked in QGIS as I had in MapInfo.   Almost a 1 to 1 conversion! Once I worked out how to convert MapInfo point size  to QGIS symbol size, and MapInfo colour value to RGB it was just a matter of generating a QML with the correct values.

Long story short, after a bit of clean up and writing a user guide I would like release version 0.1 of the MapInfo To QGIS Style Generator for wider testing.

Here is a quick example of the output.

Step 1: Take One MapInfo table.

Step 2: Run it though mapinfoToQgis.py

python mapinfoToQgis.py WaterFittings.Tab WatterFittings.qml -c FittingType --UseMapInfo

Step 3: Load QML file in QGIS

Result from running mapinfoToQGIS.py

Step 4: Get a beer?

If you are using MapInfo Font symbols or normal MapInfo 3.0 everything should come across almost exactly. mapinfoToQgis.py will use the same fonts in QGIS as you did in MapInfo and select to the correct symbol size. Although if you are using custom MapInfo 3.0 symbols you will get the default QGIS black square symbol,you can just change it to something better after loading the QML.

Currently the program only support converting symbols but I plan on adding line and region support sometime in the future.

The program can be found at https://github.com/NathanW2/MapInfo-to-QGIS-style-generator and more detailed instructions and download link can be found at https://github.com/NathanW2/MapInfo-to-QGIS-style-generator/wiki/Using-MapInfo-to-QGIS-style-generator.

Like I said at the start, hopefully other people will find this tool handy as I know I have.  If you do find it handy let me know, I would love to hear peoples feedback.  Also if you find any bugs let me know in the comments or log a issue on https://github.com/NathanW2/MapInfo-to-QGIS-style-generator/issues

Enjoy :)

Browsers: QGIS vs MapInfo 11


Warning: This post contains small rants! You have been warned.

PBBI have recently released MapInfo 11, the new version has brought one change that I think deserves some attention – even if for the wrong reasons.

MapInfo’s browser window was in need of a very good make over; it didn’t follow normal keyboard conventions, eg holding shift to select rather than ctrl; couldn’t sort via the headers; keyboard navigation was poor; and it looked ugly. PBBI then announced that MapInfo 11 would have a new “improved” browser. I thought “Sweet! About time” and then we got a copy. /sigh

So what’s the problem?

First off it’s slow to resize, this would be due to them using .NET WPF for the new browser (I have never seen a good fast .NET WPF datagrid).

Then we have sorting, which is meant to be the cool new feature. This is not the normal just click on the header to sort the column, no because that would be too easy, you have to right click in the browser, click sort and select the options which then opens a new browser window. um what?

Yes this is a pretty handy feature but no it shouldn’t be the only way to sort, you should have a click on the header kind of sort. This seems to be what people wanted.

Next. No visible scroll progress. When you move the little scroll box on the side the browser waits until you have finished to show you the data. I guess the old browser did this too so why change it!

And finally shift click to select a block of rows doesn’t work, I mean come on this is not a hard thing to do.

Surly you can dock it? Nope!

In the end we have a browser that is pretty much the same as the old one but slower……oh and has alternating row colors.

Overall reaction: Disappointed

Enter QGIS

Now if you are reading this blog you are well aware that I am a huge fan of QGIS, I don’t really make that a secret. So I guess the overall point of this post is to compare the QGIS attribute table (browser) and the new MapInfo 11 one.

Lets run though the same list as MapInfo.

Slow to resize? Nope. Even with a large table open the resize speed doesn’t change.

Header based sorting? Yep. Just click the header and it will sort that column. Multi column sorting is on the to-do list.

Live scrolling (results update as you scroll)? Yep + no lag.

Shift click to select blocks of rows? Sure why not. Or you can hold ctrl to select rows all over the grid.

Docking? Yep and floating so you can put it on a different monitor if you need.

Bonus

The QGIS attribute table has a built-in search/filter box, saves having to run a query and have a new window like in MapInfo if you just want to filter the browser.

The QGIS attribute table (browser)

Extra Bonus
The QGIS browser can even have other UI objects inside the cells. Very bloody handy.

Combo box in browser table.

You can even have a calendar date picker if you want.

Lets review

Feature MapInfo 11 QGIS
Good resize speed. No Yes
Header sorting. Yes [See update] Yes
Multi column sorting. Yes [1] No [2]
Live scrolling. No Yes
Shift click for blocks of rows No Yes
Docking. No[3] Yes

[1] Why does it need to open a new browser window? At least make it an option.
[2] On the to-do list

[3] Yes you can use http://www.pbinsight.com/support/product-downloads/item/windowhelper for this support. It’s a good tool go and download it. I just think it should be built in.

Doesn’t look too good for MapInfo at the moment. QGIS is even accessing the TAB data though ogr. Quick tip: if a free program can access and manage your data faster than you, you are failing.

My work place spends a good deal of money on our annual MapInfo “maintenance” licence, money I would happily send to the QGIS project if I had the choice. Or at least part of it,

Data

Both programs opened a 27000 row .TAB file.

Just for the record I’m not anti-MapInfo. It still has some features that I really like. I just wish they would pick up the game.

Update for 11.03 patch

As promised in my comments this is an update to reflect the new header click sorting in MapInfo Professional 11.03.

The 11.03 patch has added header based sorting, and while the sorting works as expected which is good, there is something a little odd.

What is the typical sort pattern? Left click header, table sorts ascending click again and table sorts descending or vice versa.  Then you normally have any extra sorting stuff in the right-click menu e.g Sort Ascending, Sort Desending, Clear Sort etc.

Go into MapInfo 11.03 left click header, context menu appears 0_o…  I’m not aware of any program that  has ever done that.  A menu on left click is not normal, even crappy ol’ Lotus Notes doesn’t have a menu on left click and Lotus Notes is one really crappy program.

Nuff said.

P.S Don’t talk about your new feature i.e the browser, following normal conventions for browser style windows then do something no one has ever done….and still no shift click block select.

P.P.S I know it may sound like a constant bashing but really something like this should never got passed review. I know UI is hard but come, on a context menu on left click…

A QGIS user poll


I have just whipped up a small user poll for QGIS users. The poll is just to give me (and indirectly the team) some idea of people’s opinions about QGIS and what it could do better. The poll is only short (9 questions) and one of the main things is “What could QGIS do better?”.

The poll can be found here: https://spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dDA5TW96Z19aNFU1OVpzSzFyRzFybmc6MQ

All the answers are anonymous so feel free to say what you like about anything. In the end if something isn’t working the way you think it should, write it down. It’s not going to hurt anyone’s feelings :)

If you are a partial QGIS users who mostly uses MapInfo or ESRI stuff I would also like to get your opinion.

The things I would like to see in QGIS. What are yours?


So if you have not already guessed from my increasing post about QGIS. I really like it as a GIS system but with all systems it comes with its shortcomings. (Nothing that can’t be fixed of course)

Here is my little wishlist of a few things I would love to see in QGIS.

Multipule map canvases. (ArcGIS, MapInfo)

I was thinking more like ArcGIS data frames vs something like what MapInfo has (multiple windows).  I think the multi window system can add confusion for people new to GIS, plus I hate having to window manage.

SQL like interface. (MapInfo)

This is something that I really like from MapInfo.  It adds a lot of power to the application being able to spatially join two tables that don’t share a command link column and get back a new layer.  Adding this to QGIS could be a pretty big task, although a very rewarding one IMO.  

Now there is some credit in saying “well you can just import your data into PostGIS and use that”, however that is not always a option and I think having a layer above that can query any open layer would be very very powerful.

These are just two of the main things that I would like to see, I’ll update the post if I can think of anymore.

Of course being open source I can write the features myself but C++ is still a bit over my head at the moment.

I would love to see what other peoples thoughts, or mini wishlists, are.  So if you are willing, drop a comment and let me know.

3D DXF from MapInfo Tab or ESRI Shape (or anything) using OGR


Note:The following post requires gdal 1.8

A lot of times we need to send/use 3D dxf files, we used to use FME however FME is not free or cheap. So I went looking for a free solution.

If you have gdal 1.8 it’s just one simple command line run using, what is becoming my favorite GIS tool, ogr2ogr.

All you have to do is run:

ogr2ogr -f "DXF" {outFile} {inFile} -zfield {ColumnWithZValue}

So in my case I ran:

ogr2ogr -f "DXF" C:\Temp\contourswarwick.dxf C:\Temp\Contours.TAB -zfield Height

I haven’t fully tested it but {outfile} can be any file ogr supports.

and the output:

Top view of contours
Top view of contour layer
Contours side view
The side view of the above image.

In the words of, the not so great, Charlie Sheen. WINNING!

Happy mapping :D