Is there a viable (and cheaper) alternative GIS solution to ArcGIS and the ESRI Flex API? I get asked this question alot, and I usually answer with “it depends”.
ESRI ArcGIS Applications and the Flex API
ArcGIS is map server technology made by a company called ESRI. ESRI has provided a very nice Flex API for building web applications which hooks into ArcGIS. How is this advantageous for GIS application development? The Flex API gives GIS developers a wide array of tools available to quickly build web mapping applications. In addition ESRI provide a template and widgets which considerably speeds up the development process. Its not very flexible at present, but if money is no object, you require complex GIS functionality and speed is of the essence, then then ESRI ArcGIS solution is a good path to follow.
Open Source GIS Mapping
When we talk lower cost, we usually turn to open source solutions. An “open source stack” is often discussed. The “stack” is comprised of a client – a browser for example – a server, and a database. There are several option for map server and database combinations: GeoServer, PostGIS and Postgres are a classic open source middle and back-end combo. But how about client tools? Mapping clients for Flex are somewhat immature. In my experience the best Flex API for GIS development, presently, is Openscales (which I’ll go into more detail about in a later post). It adheres closely to open standards, notably WMS and WFS. When used with GML, it can be a very powerful query tool.