GIS software

There are lots of different software packages that can create, edit, and process GIS data, and they vary from generalized GIS software to tools that specialize in specific data or processes. For the sake of simplicity, this guide will provide information on the software available from the library for Carleton students, staff, and faculty.

You can access all of these software packages on our Library GIS Workstations.

I have a Mac | I have a Windows computer | ArcGISQGIS | Global Mapper

I have a Mac

While some software packages are only able to run on Windows, there are still some Mac options:

I have a Windows computer

Feel free to explore any of the software options below as they all work with Windows.


ArcGIS is the name of a widely-used Windows-only GIS software that is produced by the company Esri. Carleton Library purchases a campus-wide subscription to Esri products that current students, staff, and faculty can access for free. Below are brief descriptions of the three major ArcGIS products and how you can access them. Esri provides numerous online training documents and courses through Esri Training, which are free (with a few exceptions) for Carleton users.

ArcGIS Pro

ArcGIS Pro is the current Esri flagship software. If you are new to GIS, we highly recommend using this software over ArcGIS Desktop. More details here. Minimum computer requirements.

To install ArcGIS Pro as a current Carleton student, staff, or faculty member, follow these instructions.

ArcGIS Desktop

ArcGIS Desktop was the Esri flagship software for many years and is still robust but does not boast the same processing speed or integration with ArcGIS Online as ArcGIS Pro. More details hereMinimum computer requirements.

To install ArcGIS Desktop as a current Carleton student, follow these instructions.

To install ArcGIS Desktop as a current Carleton staff or faculty member, or in a campus lab, follow these instructions.

ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online is a browser-based GIS tool that allows users to upload and analyze geospatial data, create and share interactive maps, and more. More details here.

To access ArcGIS Online as a current Carleton student, staff, or faculty member, follow these instructions.


QGIS is a free, open source GIS software that is compatible with Macs, Windows, and Linux operating systems. It is robust and performs many of the same geospatial analysis tasks that ArcGIS does. More details here.

We recommend installing the most recent long-term release (LTR). QGIS also has lots of helpful documentation.

Video (3 minutes) on installing QGIS on a Mac.

Global Mapper

Global Mapper is GIS software that is more lightweight than ArcGIS but can do certain things more quickly or easily, such as processing raster elevation datasets and LiDAR. More details here. We also have a Global Mapper help guide with some specific examples.

Carleton Library has a limited number of Global Mapper licenses available to students. Please contact us for details.


If you are having trouble deciding, we are more than happy to speak with you about the project you have in mind if you would like to know what the next steps should be.

Content last reviewed: November 9, 2020