GIS for Mac OSX

Once, the only serious way to do much GIS work on your Mac was to use ArcGIS (or MapInfo) in a Windows virtual machine … but not anymore.


QGIS 2.0-dev on Mac OS X 10.8

QGIS 2.0-dev on OS X – fast & stable.

Quantum GIS can now really compete with ArcGIS in terms of functionality and map creation. I miss a few things – proportional symbols for one – and the map layout for printing is not as easy – but the workflow is much easier, especially when editing shapefiles.

  • Installers for the current stable version of QGIS are maintained at William Kyngesburye’s site including development builds from time to time, as well as the supporting frameworks required to run it.
  • Development builds (v 2.0 Alpha) are available from the Dakota Cartography site and updated nightly. These generally work really well – but many of the plugins no longer function.
  • You can run BOTH the stable and development versions side by side on your Mac – this is what I do, so far without a problem. One will be called and the other; the only problem going back and forth between them may be compatibility between project file (.qgs) versions.

Installation of either the stable or dev versions requires installation of the supporting frameworks, then a standard drag-and-drop of the app itself:

  1. Download and install the GDAL Complete framework (double click and install the package) – this gives you some required frameworks (applications) including GDAL, GEOS and SQLite (which are all useful in their own right) giving you command line access to those apps as well;
  2. Download and install the GSL framework (double click and install the package);
  3. Download and install QGIS (open the .dmg and drag the app to the Applications folder).
He also has installers for GRASS and PostGRESQL for the mac. I use the GRASS installer but find the installer (see below) far easier.

GISLook & GISMeta

Use quicklook to browse for a spatial file and press space to see a preview of the geometry.

Browse for a spatial file and press space to see a preview of the geometry.

These are plugins for Quicklook and Spotlight for OSX, letting you preview shapefiles and other types of geographic data directly in the Finder or from QGIS while browsing for files.

This is invaluable.

With GISLook you can preview (press the spacebar while browsing) geometry or image data from shapefiles, .e00 interchange files, coverages, .asc grids, DEMs and others (see the home page for a complete list).

GISMeta while show the size of  a raster grid file in the “get info” window in the Finder.


The easiest way to get this going is with the installer, giving you PostgreSQL 9.2 and PostGIS 2.02. Download, drag-and-drop, done.

I have battled with installing PostgreSQL and PostGIS on the Mac with varying results – homebrew or the packages from Kyngchaos can sometimes get it installed, but then the various frameworks or QGIS plugins (Python) don’t play well together.

  1. Download and use the drag-and-drop PostgreSQL installer from
  2. Install PGAdmin to administer PostgreSQL.



R plays very well with mapping and spatial operations – not good for editing shapefiles, but great for analysis and basic presentation.

You’ll probably want the packages:

  • sp
  • maptools
  • spatstat
  • rgdal

The R Project for Statistical Computing has installers for R on the Mac. For a development environment (including syntax highlighting, version management and export of plots) try RStudio.