Archaeology and GIS—The Linux Way
On Feb. 1, 1999, Baylor and Hannover simultaneously released the GRASS 5.0 beta. This was the first major upgrade to GRASS in a number of years. The demand was so high that downloads at Baylor accounted for 20% of the entire university Internet traffic. To date, several thousand unique downloads of Linux GRASS have been made from the Hannover site, which is currently transferring 5GB a week. This volume is steadily increasing. A stable release of GRASS 5.0 is planned for early summer—by the time you read this. Currently, bug reports are being collected and fixes applied to the code. The code is also being modified to make GRASS 64-bit compliant.
The most significant new features of GRASS 5.0 are floating-point support in raster format and an improved sites format. Because all raster modules have to be rewritten, this is a major step in GRASS development. For the stable 5.0 version, several other projects are on the list. The NVIZ tool, a robust three-dimensional visualization tool, is currently being ported to Linux and other UNIX systems from SGI to aid in viewing 3-D GRASS data with raster/vector/sites overlaying features (Figure 4). This tool allows users to display 3-D raster data as stacked layers, with raster, vector and sites draped as overlays. It will be a very useful (and much sought-after) tool for data visualization.
To encourage user development of GRASS routines, the GRASS 5.0 programmer's tutorial will be available very soon. In the near future, the growth of GRASS will include introducing a new vector format. This is part of the long-term plan to continue the evolution of GRASS to a true 3-D/4-D GIS system. It will incorporate an improved 3-D raster format and new 3-D vector formats.
A friend recently summed up the future of GRASS and Linux quite well. He was leaving a research position to go work for a state agency using their expensive off-the-shelf GIS and remote-sensing packages; however, he had also worked with GRASS on a Sun box. Before he left, he sat down with me to get some information on setting up a Linux box on his office Wintel machine. As he said, “I need to be able to get the real spatial work done on a stable platform that is not going to crash; those commercial packages on Wintels are just too buggy.” When I sent him a copy of this last paragraph now that he has been in the office for some months, he responded, “You can say that again and again and again....” One more sign that the Linux juggernaut continues on its way into the workplace.
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