CS-Map Enters Public Domain

4 Aug, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

Autodesk donates conversion technology to OSGeo.

Norm Olsen, the founder of Mentor Software, once wondered, "What happens to Mentor Software and its clients and customers if I get run over by a bus?" But he doesn't need to worry about that anymore. In September 2007, Autodesk snatched up most of his company's intellectual property for an undisclosed amount, promising to donate the technologies to the open source community. This week, Autodesk made good on the promise. The company deposited the source code for Mentor Software's CS-Map into the nonprofit Open Source Geospatial Foundation's (OSGeo's) open source project archive. The library, now available free, is a cause of celebration for many who believe open source is the answer to interoperability.

OSGeo's Growing Reach
Autodesk's contribution to OSGeo includes MapGuide, a Web-based platform for developing mapping applications and services, and feature data object (FDO), an application programming interface (API) for storing, retrieving, updating, and analyzing geospatial data.

Autodesk is one of OSGeo's sustaining sponsors. The company provides legal, organizational, and financial aid to help launch and maintain the foundation. Other OSGeo sponsors include PCI Geomatics, known for its geospatial imaging software Geomatica; 1Spatial, a supplier of GIS software and services; and LizardTech, makers of the GeoExpress imaging software. Conspicuously absent from the sponsor list is ESRI, an Autodesk competitor and another big name in the geospatial industry.

On the other hand, both Autodesk and ESRI are involved in Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), a nonprofit leading the development of standards for geospatial and location-based services.

Bob Bray, Autodesk's architect and manager for geospatial platform development, is a charter member of OSGeo. According to him, "There's definitely synergy between OSGeo and OGC and they're looking into working together more closely in the near future."

Last month, Lisa Campbell, Autodesk's vice-president of geospatial solutions, was elected to become one of the two new directors of OGC.

Hope for a Common Coordinate System
With support for more than 3,000 projection and coordinate systems, CS-Map is a robust GIS data conversion engine. The technology lets AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk MapGuide Enterprise users juggle GIS data collected for different projects, often in different coordinate systems.

Also in the public domain is PROJ.4, another open source cartographic projections library. Commercial alternatives are available from Blue Marble and GeoCalc. Some GIS developers anticipate that, in time, one open source library will emerge as the standard.

"My hope is that, over time, the two open source technologies [PROJ.4 and CS-Map] merge and unfold as one," Bray said. "I've been actively talking to other OSGeo members about bridging the two."

OSGeo licenses the source code in its custody under what is know as the MIT license (after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that first pioneered it), which allows Autodesk to later incorporate the innovations and enhancements that come from the open source community into its commercial geospatial products that use CS-Map.

"Our plan in acquiring and donating CS-Map to the open source community was to promote better interoperability between open source geospatial applications and commercial products," said Bray.

Olsen, the man who engineered CS-Map, now works for Autodesk as a senior software engineer.

(For more, read "Urban Forest in Bits and Bytes" about how Autodesk enabled the creation of a Web 2.0 map application with Autodesk MapGuide, now an open source technology.)