Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

FOSS4G 2006 Day One

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Well, today was day one of the FOSS4G conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. I’m a bit of a conference n00b, having only made it to UK events in the past, and certainly nothing of this size or calibre. So, couple that with the fact that I’ve forgotten most of my school french or german vocab and it’s been a learning experience!

The workshops that I attended today were on MapGuide Open Source, which was what I was concentrating on when I signed up but I think I would rather have attended the workshop on PostGIS instead of the Introduction to MapGuide Open Source this morning. Having already used MGOS for a few months now I’m reasonably familiar with the basic functionality, although as always a proper grounding in the fundamentals is incredibly valuable. The most interesting aspect that I was unaware of is MapAgent, a set of html forms built in to the standard MGOS installation that expose the xml-based resource database and allow you to interrogate it. With MapAgent it’s possible to alter much of the layer symbology and client-level appearance of your map, such as the Web Layout without needing to use MapGuide Studio, which will soon be a fully commercial product, or it’s slightly limited but free alternative Web Studio by DM Solutions.

The afternoon session was far more advanced, covering the development of web-based applications to enhance MGOS, such as an interface for digitising features on screen or serving live kml to Google Earth. This session required a better understanding of php and javascript than I have, unfortunately, so went way over my head. It was really inspiring though, and I do hope to improve my coding in those areas (when I get chance). I’m not sure that either session convinced me that MGOS should be a primary part of our emerging Spatial Data Infrastructure though, as it does blur the lines between service provider (the Server), the Data Store, and the Client Interface. Boy though, that client interface is slick. Hmm, the jury’s out on this one.

This evening there was a meeting about OSGEO, which was mainly a request for people to set up Local Chapters, and a discussion on the exact form that such groups should take. I confess that I started off in the meeting not very interested, but after mulling it over I can see that such a group in the UK could potentially provide a focus for lobbying for public ownership of geospatial data as well as increasing public awareness (and adoption) of Open Source software in the UK. It’s quite telling that there are very few Brits at the conference, and whether that’s symptomatic of a British reluctance to get involved in OS Software is an interesting question.

Finally we hooked up with Tyler Mitchell and had an entertaining evening meal in a pizzeria where all the pizzas were named after celebrities! I can’t say that I tried the Brad Pitt, or even the Tony Blair- I went for a Swiss Politician who’s name I’ve forgotten. No mushrooms you see…

[Posted from my hotel room on my zaurus pda (so no linkalicious goodness, though I’ll try and rectify that later, with a proper keyboard]