GIS Software & Mapping Tools

This page is an abbreviated listing of the most-used and most-applicable GIS and GIS-related software tools available to our UC San Diego community in the Data & GIS Lab or available for purchase through ACMS.

This is an example of an embedded map using ESRI's new Make A Map tools, found at

ESRI Software

Arc Product Family

ArcGIS Desktop is the main GIS software we use in the Data & GIS Lab, and this product comes in three different functionality levels: ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo. The main difference between the three is in the analysis tools offered in ArcToolbox. ArcEditor has more tools than ArcView, and ArcInfo has more tools than ArcEditor. Thus, one builds upon the other. For more details on the differences, simply search do a search online for 'ESRI ArcGIS Desktop Functionality Matrix' and then choose the most appropriate result.

ArcGIS Desktop, at the ArcInfo functionality level, is available on workstations in the Data & GIS Lab. ArcGIS Desktop is also available at assorted locations across campus - see the ACS Lab Explorer for exact and current installation locations.

If you need a free viewer for ArcGIS data, ArcGIS Explorer is one of the growing number of free and downloadable or browser-based GIS tools available from ESRI.  ArcGIS Explorer, for example, can be used to view GIS data without having to purchase the full ArcGIS software suite.

What you, as a current UC San Diego community member, get for free from ESRI!

  • Free Virtual Campus Courses
  • One Free Day for any current UC San Diego student, staff or faculty at ESRI's International User Conference or Education User Conference down at the San Diego Convention Center every summer
  • Free Student Versions of ArcGIS:  Any current student at UC San Diego is eligible for these software licenses. They expire after one year and are a great way to allow students to utilize GIS software on their own PCs. Available through the GIS Coordinator.  NOTE:  ONLY WORKS IN THE WINDOWS OPERATING ENVIRONMENT, SO IF YOU CAN RUN WINDOWS ON YOUR MAC, YOU CAN USE THIS.

Interested in getting an ESRI product on your own computer? ESRI products run on the Windows, Unix, Linux and Solaris platforms as well as the new Macintosh Bootcamp platform. All purchases, licensing and distribution of ESRI software is managed by Academic Computing & Media Services (ACMS).

GIS Software for Macs

Cartographica is a Mac-based GIS software.  They offer an educational discount for students to purchase the software, and also have a free trial download.  More information can be found at

Google Earth PRO

Google Earth PRO is available on workstations in the Data & GIS Lab. User-friendly and fun, PRO serves as a visually exciting tool to display and present data in 3D using imagery and terrain data. With PRO you can make a movie of your animation, import GIS data for presentation, and import spreadsheet data such as latitude/longitude coordinates, addresses, or GPS points.

If you are faculty, staff, or a graduate student using PRO in the classroom, you may be able to obtain your own license for Google Earth PRO. In order to obtain a one-year free subscription to PRO for installation on your own computer, the software must be integrated into your curriculum. Check out the requirements and application details (PDF).

GIS-Related Software

There are many ancillary pieces of software that make it easier to work with GIS and GIS data. Here are just a few recommended tools available in the Data & GIS Lab:

  • WinRAR - An unzipping software that can manage zipped formats such as .tar and .gz files easily.
  • FME - Translates and manipulates file types for integration across formats such as CAD, GIS, raster and database.
  • Arc2Earth - An ArcGIS toolbar extension which more cleanly and easily allows for GIS data created in Arc to be used in Google Earth.

GIS Logo

GIS Staff is Here to Help!

Data & GIS Lab Staff schedule

Online Mapping Tools

Online mapping may be what you need rather than a full-blown GIS.  Here are a few top sites for online mapping that are easy to use and relevant to many of the UC San Diego disciplines.

I'm happy to provide additional information on our resources and services.

Please let me know about your questions, comments, and suggestions for this website and for GIS on the UC San Diego campus.

--Michael Smith, GIS Coordinator

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)