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GIS: Geographic Information Systems: Access GIS Software

Northwestern University Library's GIS guide.

GIS Software

NU faculty, staff, and students on the Evanston, Chicago, and Qatar campuses have access to the ESRI ArcGIS software suite for academic or non-commercial purposes.

  • ArcGIS Pro is Esri's redesigned, and eventual replacement version of ArcGIS Desktop.

  • ArcGIS Desktop software available from NUIT
    • NU NetID required
    • Faculty and staff may install on university-owned computers for teaching, research and administrative uses.  Installation on personal computers is allowed but only for academic, non-commercial uses.
    • Students may install on personal computers, but the software must be uninstalled when they leave the University.
    • ArcGIS Desktop will be installed with the necessary software license. Licenses will expire February 22 of each year and the software will cease to function.  Users must download and reinstall the latest version of ArcGIS which will then be licensed through the end of the next license period (1 year maximum).
    • ArcGIS Desktop System Requirements
    • ArcGIS Desktop Installation FAQ
  • ArcGIS Online
    • Use to create and share web-based maps. To request access to Northwestern University’s ArcGIS Online Organizational Account send an email using your Northwestern University email (; etc.) to with “ArcGIS Online Access Request” in the subject heading
  • Additional ESRI applications (server and mobile) are available by request from

The programs listed below can analyze geospatial data and are alternatives to ESRI's ArcGIS. While this software is not currently available in the NU Library, many programs are free and offer an alternative for at-home or commercial uses.  In addition, see the GIS Lite Guide for several no/low cost applications and websites for making maps and data visualization.

  • Quantum GIS (QGIS) is an open source GIS software, available for both Windows OS and Mac OS users. This software is free and comes with surprisingly powerful and useful tools!
  • GRASS this is a free Geographic Information System (GIS) used for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, graphics/maps production, spatial modeling, and visualization. GRASS is an official project of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation.
  • Other options: 
    • ArcGIS Explorer A free GIS viewer from ESRI. It looks much like Google Earth, but with some spatial analysis functionality.
    • Landserf is a Java-base free desktop GIS runs on all Java supported platforms - good with "raster" data, with advanced raster data visualization functions.
    • OS Geo Live is a group of Open Source (OS) Geospatial Technology tools, including spatial database, web map servers, desktop GIS, etc. Below are the key & popular components which we can download individually.
    • uDig (accronym for User-friendly Desktop Internet GIS) is meant to work with online, web map services (internet GIS).
    • OpenLayers Not exactly GIS software but this is definitely one of the most popular OSG tools. OpenLayer is a super-easy javascript tool to create your own interactive map by mashing up web map services.
    • GMT is an open source collection of ~ 65 tools for manipulating geographic and Cartesian data sets. GMT supports over 30 map projections and transformations and comes with support data such as GSHHS coastlines, rivers, and political boundaries. GMT is developed and maintained by Paul Wessel and Walter H. F. Smith with help from a global set of volunteers, and is supported by the National Science Foundation. 

GIS consultation appointments are available to Northwestern-affiliated students who are off-site. NUIT provides desktop videoconferencing software at no cost to all who have a NetIDBlueJeans is the video conferencing application used. Look here for instructions on how to use Blue Jeans

Prepare before your scheduled consultation time:

  • request an account
  • install the software
  • have a USB headset with microphone (a webcam is optional)

To request a GIS consultation appointment complete the GIS Project Form.

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GIS Support at Northwestern University Library

If you are in need of GIS assistance with a specific project or problem, please submit a GIS Project Support form.