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Sat Nov 16 18:15:11 2019

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QGIS Planet

SLYR ESRI to QGIS compatibility suite – October 2019 update

Recently, staff at North Road have been hard at work on our SLYR “ESRI to QGIS compatiblity suite“, and we thought it’s time to share some of the latest exciting updates with you.

While SLYR begun life as a simple “LYR to QGIS conversion tool”, it quickly matured into a full ArcGIS compatibility suite for QGIS. Aside from its original task of converting ESRI LYR files, SLYR now extends the QGIS interface and adds seamless support for working with all kinds of ArcGIS projects and data files. It’s rapidly becoming a must-have tool for any organisation which uses a mix of ESRI and open source tools, or for any organisation exploring a transition away from ArcGIS to QGIS.

Accordingly, we thought it’s well past time we posted an update detailing the latest functionality and support we’ve added to SLYR over the past couple of months! Let’s dive in…

  • Full support for raster LYR file conversion, including unique value renderers, color map renderers, classified renderers, RGB renderers and stretched color ramp renderers:

    From ArcMap…

    …to QGIS!
  • Support for conversion of fill symbol outlines with complex offsets, decorations and dashed line templates
  • Conversion of 3D marker and simple 3D lines to their 2d equivalent, matching ArcMap’s 2D rendering of these symbol types
  • Beta support for converting map annotations and drawings, including custom text labels and reference scale support
  • Label and annotation callout support*
  • Support for converting bookmarks stored in MXD documents*
  • Support for converting ESRI bookmark “.dat” files via drag and drop to QGIS*
  • Correct conversion of OpenStreetMap and bing maps basemap layers
  • SLYR now presents users with a friendly summary of warnings generated during the LYR or MXD conversion process (e.g. due to settings which can’t be matched in QGIS)
  • Added support for MXD documents generated in very early ArcMap versions
  • We’ve added QGIS Processing algorithms allowing for bulk LYR to QLR and MXD to QGS conversion. Now you can run a batch conversion process of ALL MXD/LYR files held at your organisation in one go!
  • Greatly improved matching of converted symbols to their original ArcGIS appearance, including more support for undocumented ArcGIS symbol rendering behavior
  • Support for conversion of text symbols and label settings stored in .style databases*
  • Directly drag and drop layers and layer groups from ArcMap to QGIS to add them to the current QGIS project (maintaining their ArcGIS symbology and layer settings!)*
  • Directly drag and drop layers from ArcCatalog to QGIS windows to open in QGIS*
  • Support for ESRI MapServer layers

(*requires QGIS 3.10 or later)

Over the remainder of 2019, we’ll be hard at work further improving SLYR’s support for MXD document conversion, and adding support for automatic conversion of ArcMap print layouts to QGIS print layouts.

While SLYR is not currently an open-source tool, we believe strongly in the power of open source software, and accordingly we’ve been using a significant portion of the funds generated from SLYR sales to extend the core QGIS application itself. This has directly resulted in many exciting improvements to QGIS, which will become widely available in the upcoming QGIS 3.10 release. Some of the features directly funded by SLYR sales include:

  • A “Segment Center” placement mode for marker line symbols
  • Reworked bookmark handling in QGIS, with a greatly enhanced workflow and usability, and a stable API for 3rd party plugins and scripts to hook into
  • Improved handling of layer symbology for layers with broken paths
  • Auto repair of all other broken layers with a matching data source whenever a single layer path is fixed in a project
  • Support for managing text formats and label settings in QGIS style libraries, allowing storage and management of label and text format presets
  • A new Processing algorithm “Combine Style Databases“, allowing multiple QGIS style databases to be merged to one
  • Adding a “Save layer styles into GeoPackage” option for the “Package Layers” algorithm
  • New expression functions which return file info, such as file paths and base file names
  • Adding new options to autofill the batch Processing dialog, including adding input files using recursive filter based file searches
  • Coming in QGIS 3.12: A new option to set the color to use when rendering nodata pixels in raster layers
  • Coming in QGIS 3.12: A new “random marker fill” symbol layer type, which fills polygons by placing point markers in random locations

You can read more about our SLYR ESRI to QGIS compatibility tool here, or email [email protected] to discuss licensing arrangements for your organisation! Alternatively, send us an email if you’d like to discuss your organisations approach to open-source GIS and for assistance in making this transition as painless as possible.

Announcing our SLYR (MXD to QGIS) funding drive!

One product which North Road had the chance to develop last year, and which we are super-proud of, is our SLYR ESRI style to QGIS conversion tool. If you haven’t heard of it before, this tool allows automatic conversion of ESRI .style database files to their equivalent QGIS symbology equivalent. It works well for the most part, and now we’re keen to take this to the next stage.

The good news is that North Road have been conducting extensive research and development over the past 12 months, and we’re pleased to announce our plans for extending SLYR to support ESRI LYR and MXD documents. The LYR and MXD formats are proprietary ESRI-only formats, with no public specifications allowing their use. This is a huge issue for organisations who want to move from an ESRI environment to the open geospatial world, yet are held back by hundreds (or thousands!) of existing ESRI MXD map documents and layer styles which they currently cannot utilise outside of the ESRI software ecosystem. Furthermore, many providers of spatial data only include ESRI specific layer formatting files with their data supplies. This leaves users with no means of utilising these official, pre-defined styles in non-ESRI tools.

In order for us to continue development of the SLYR tool and unlock use of LYR and MXD formats outside of ESRI tools, we are conducting a funding campaign. Sponsors of the campaign will receive access to the tools as they are developed and gain access to official support channels covering their use. At the conclusion of this drive we’ll be releasing all the tools and specifications under a free, open-source license.

You can read the full details of the campaign here, including pricing to become a project sponsor and gain access to the tools as they develop. As a campaign launch promo, we’re offering the first 10 sponsors a super-special discounted rate (as a reward for jumping on the development early).

The mockup below shows what the end goal is: seamless, fully integrated, automatic conversion of MXD and LYR files directly within the QGIS desktop application!

QGIS Features I long for while using ArcGIS

(aka Features that ArcGIS Desktop users might not know that exists)

EN | PT

From time to time, I read articles comparing ArcGIS vs QGIS. Since many of those articles are created from an ArcGIS user point of view, they invariably lead to biased observations on QGIS lack of features. It’s time for a QGIS user perspective, so bare with me on this (a bit) long, totally and openly biased post.

“Hello, my name is Alexandre, and I have been using… QGIS

This is something I would say at an anonymous QGIS user therapy group. I’m willing to attend one of those because being recently and temporally forced to use ArcGIS Desktop again (don’t ask!), I really really really miss QGIS in many ways.

There was a time when I have used ArcGIS on the regular basis. I used it until version 9.3.1 and then decided to move away (toward the light) into QGIS (1.7.4 I think). At that time, I missed some (or even many?) ArcGIS features, but I was willing to accept it in exchange for the freedom of the Open Source philosophy. Since then, a lot have happened in the QGIS world, and I have been watching it closely. I would expect the same have happened in ArcGIS side, but, as far I can see, it didn’t.

I’m using top shelf ArcGIS Desktop Advanced and I’m struggling to do very basic tasks that simply are nonexistent in ArcGIS. So here’s my short list of QGIS functionalities that I’m longing for. For those of you that use ArcGIS exclusively, some of this features may catch you by surprise.

Warning: For those of you that use ArcGIS exclusively, some of this features may catch you by surprise.

Transparency control

“ArcGIS have transparency! It’s in the Display tab, in the layer’s properties dialog!”

Yes, but… you can only set transparency at the layer level. That is, either it’s all transparent, or it’s not…

In QGIS on the other end, you can set transparency at layer level, feature/symbol level, and color level. You can say that this is being overrated, but check the differences in the following images.

Transparency_layer_levelTransparency_feature_symbol_levelTransparency_color_level

Notice that in QGIS you can set transparency at color level everywhere (or almost everywhere) there is a color to select. This includes annotations (like the ones in the image above), labels and composers items. You can even set transparency in colors by using the RGBA function in an expression! How sweet can that be? 🙂

Screenshot from 2016-01-27 14:12:34

Blending modes

This is one of QGIS’s pristine jewels. The ability to combine layers the way you would do in almost any design/photo editing software. At layer or at feature level, you can control how they will “interact” with other layers or features below. Besides the normal mode, QGIS offers 12 other blending modes:  Lighten, Screen, Dodge, Darken, Multiply, Burn, Overlay, Soft light, Hard light, Difference, and Subtract. Check this page to know more about the math behind each one and this image for some examples

It’s not easy to grasp how can this be of any use for cartography before you try it yourself. I had the chance to play around while trying to answer this question.

2wph4

A very common application for this functionality is when you want to add shadows to simulate the relief by putting a hill shade on top of other layers. In ArcGIS, you can only control the layer transparency, and the result is always a bit pale. But in QGIS, you can keep the strength of the original colors by using the multiply mode in the hill shade layer.

Screenshot from 2016-01-27 15:24:38
Hypsometry original colors
Screenshot from 2016-01-27 15:25:45
Hypsometry colors paled by transparent hill shade
Screenshot from 2016-01-27 15:24:45
Hypsometry original colors with the hill shade using QGIS multiply blending

You can also use blending modes in the print composer items, allowing you to combine them with other items and textures. This gives you the opportunity to make more “artistic” things without the need to go post-processing in a design software.

Colour Picker Menu

Controlling color is a very important deal for a cartographer and QGIS allow you to control it like the professional you are. You can select your colours using many different interfaces. Interfaces that you might recognize from software like Inkscape, Photoshop, Gimp and others alike.

My favorite one is the color picker. Using color picker, you can pick colors from anywhere on your screen, either from QGIS itself or outside. This is quite handy and productive when you are trying to use a color from your map, it’s legend, a COLOURlovers palette or a company logo.

anim
Picking a color from outside QGIS

You can also copy/paste colors between dialogs, save and import color palettes, and you can even name a color and use it in a variable. With all this available for free, it’s hard to swallow Windows color selector :(.

Vector symbols renderers “powertools”

In ArcGIS, you have a few fancy ways to symbol your vector layers. You got: Single symbol, Unique values, Unique values many fields… and so on. At the first glance, you may think that QGIS lacks some of them. Believe me, it doesn’t! In fact, QGIS offers much more flexibility when you need to symbol your layers.

For starters, it allows you to use fields or expressions on any of the symbols renderers, while ArcGIS only allows the use of fields. Powered by hundreds of functions and the ability to create your owns in python, what you can do with the expression builder has no limits. This means, for instance, that you can combine, select, recalculate, normalize an infinite number of fields to create your own “values” (not to mention that you can tweak your values labels, making it ideal to create the legend).

Screenshot from 2016-01-20 22:34:54
QGIS Graduated renderer using an expression to calculate population density

And then, in QGIS, you have the special (and kinda very specific) renderers, that make you say “wooooh”. Like the Inverted polygons that allow you to fill the the outside of polygons (nice to mask other features), the Point displacement to show points that are too close to each others, and the Heatmap that will transform, ON-THE-FLY, all your points in a layer into a nice heatmap without the need to convert them to raster (and that will update as soon as you, or anyone else, edits the point features).

Screenshot from 2016-01-20 22:58:44
Inverted Polygon Renderer masking the outside of an interest area

But I have left the best to the end. The “One rendered to Rule them all”, the Rule-based symbols. With the rule-based renderer, you can add several rules, group them in a tree structure, and set each one with a desired symbol. This gives QGIS users full control of their layer’s symbols, and, paired with expression builder and data-defined properties, opens the door to many wonderful applications.

rulesymbol_ng_line
Rule-based renderer

Atlas

One of my favorite (and missed) features in QGIS is the Map Composer’s Atlas. I know that ArcGIS has its own “Atlas”, the Data Driven Pages, but frankly, it’s simply not the same.

I believe you know the basic functionally that both software allow. You create a map layout and choose a vector layer as coverage, and it will create an output panned or zoomed for each of the layer’s feature. You can also add some labels that will change according to the layers attributes.

But in QGIS, things go a little bit further…

Basically, you can use coverage layer’s attributes and geometry anywhere you can use an expression. And, in QGIS, expressions are everywhere. That way, most layers and map composer items properties can be controlled by a single coverage layer.

With the right configuration, while iterating over the atlas coverage features, you can,  choose what feature to show and what features to hide, change a theme color for your map, rotate and resize your page acording to the feature sizechoose a specific logo to came along with your map, and much more. Once again, the sky is the limit.

mosaico_regioes_fixed
Auto-resized maps that fits the coverage features at specific scale using atlas

So, if you pair Atlas it with QGIS data-defined properties, rule-based symbols and expressions, ArcGIS Data Driven Pages are no match. You don’t think so? Try to answer this question then.

Tip: If you really want to leverage your map production, using Spatialite or Postgis databases you can create the perfect atlas coverage layers from views that fit your needs. No data redundancy and they are always updated.

Label and Style dialogs

This one is more of a User Experience thing than an actual feature, but you won’t imagine how refreshing it is to have all Style and Labels options in two single dialogs (with several tabs, of course).

Using the symbol menu in ArcGIS makes me feel like if I’m in the Inception movie, at some point in time, I no longer know where the hell am I. For example, to apply a dashed outline in a fill symbol I needed to open 5 different dialogs, and then go back clicking OK, OK, OK, OK …

Capture
ArcGIS “Inception” symbol settings

In QGIS, once in the properties menu, every setting is (almost) one click way. And you just need to press OK (or Apply ) once to see the result!

Screenshot from 2016-01-20 21:51:33
QGIS Style setting

As an extra, you can copy/paste styles from one layer to another, making styling several layers even faster. And now you say:

“Don’t be silly! In ArcGIS you can import symbols from other layers too.”

Symbols? yes. Labels? No! And if you had lots of work setting your fancy labels, having to do the exact same/similar thing in another layer, it will make you wanna cry… I did.

(I think I will leave the multiple styles per layer vs data frames comparison for another time)

WFS

“Say what?!!”

Yup, that’s it, ArcGIS Desktop lacks support for WFS OGC standard unless you buy an extra extension: The Data Interoperability Extention.

In a GIS world that, more and more, is evolving towards Open Data, Open Standards and OGC Web Services, this reveals a very mercantile approach by ESRI. If I were an ESRI customer, I would feel outraged. <sarcasm>Or maybe not… maybe I would thank the opportunity to yet invest some more money in it’s really advanced features…<\sarcasm>

In QGIS, like everything else, WFS is absolutely free (as in freedom, not free beer). All you need to do is add the WFS server’s URL, and you can add all the layers you want, with the absolute sure that they are as updated as you can get.

Screenshot from 2016-01-20 21:58:54

Fortunately for ArcGIS users with a low budget, they can easily make a request for a layer using the internet browser :-P.

http://giswebservices.massgis.state.ma.us/geoserver/wfs?request=GetFeature&service=wfs&version=1.0.0&typename=massgis:GISDATA.TOWNS_POLY&outputformat=SHAPE-ZIP

Or they can simply use QGIS to download it. But, in both cases, be aware that the layers won’t update themselves by magic.

Expression builder

I have already mentioned the use of expressions several times, but for those of you that do not know the expression Builder, I though I end my post with one of my all time favourite features in QGIS.

I do not know enough of ArcGIS expression builder to really criticize it. But, AFAIK, you can use it to create labels and to populate a field using the field calculator. I know that there are many functions that you can use (I have used just a few) but they are not visible to the common user (you probably need to consult the ArcGIS Desktop Help to know them all). And you can create your own functions in VBScript, Python, and JsScript.

Capture

On QGIS side, like I said before, the Expression Builder can be used almost everywhere, and this makes it very convenient for many different purposes. In terms of functions, you have hundreds of functions right there in the builder’s dialog, with the corresponding syntax help, and some examples. You also have the fields and values like in ArcGIS, and you even have a “recent expressions” group for re-using recent expressions with no the need to remember prior expression.

Capture

Besides, you can create your own functions using Python (no VBScript or JsScript). For this purpose, you have a separate tab with a function editor. The editor have code highlighting and save your functions in your user area, making it available for later use (even for other QGIS sessions).

Capture

Conclusion

These are certainly not the only QGIS features that I miss, and they are probably not the most limiting ones (for instance, not being able to fully work with Spatialite and Postgis databases will make, for sure, my life miserable in the near future), but they were the ones I noticed right away when I (re)open ArcGIS for the first time.

I also feel that, based on the QGIS current development momentum, with each QGIS Changelog, the list will grow very fast. And although I haven’t tested ArcGIS Pro, I don’t think ESRI will be able to keep the pace.

“Are there things I still miss from ArcGIS?” Sure. I miss CMYK color support while exporting maps, for instance. But not as much as I miss QGIS now. Besides, I know that those will be addressed sooner or later.

In the end, I kinda enjoyed the opportunity to go back to ArcGIS, as it reinforced the way I think about QGIS. It’s all about freedom! Not only the freedom to use the software (that I was already aware) but also the freedom to control software itself and it’s outputs. Maintaining the users friendliness for new users, a lot have been done to make power users life easier, and they feel very pleased with it (at least I am).

All this being said, the winner is… QGIS!!

The End

(of a very biased post)

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