Whenever I have run into a more-than-usually knotty GIS analysis step, one which the tools bundled with ArcGIS just don’t seem to be able to unravel, I look first to Hawth’s Tools. Hawth’s Tools is a free package of add-ons for ArcGIS, capable of all manner of tricks, like “for each polygon, create a new attribute which records the range of values of the points which fall into it“. Handy stuff like that. When asked about a GIS problem, I have a bad habit of saying “oh sure, I can do that” and then discovering it’s not so easy, and as such I’ve often thanked Hawthorne L. Beyer under my breath for his freely given antidote to my hubris.
Having just such a task on my hands today, I look to spatialecology.com and discover that the Hawth has made good on his long-standing threat of re-writing the whole H-Tools package in a new and ambitious form, currently in beta distribution and very handsomely titled “The Geospatial Modelling Environment“.
“GME provides you with a suite of analysis and modelling tools, ranging from small ‘building blocks’ that you can use to construct a sophisticated work-flow, to completely self-contained analysis programs. It also uses the extraordinarily powerful open source software R as the statistical engine to drive some of the analysis tools. One of the many strengths of R is that it is open source, completely transparent and well documented: important characteristics for any scientific analytical software.”
update: I’ve now used GME for some basic processing, and the enhanced-command-line-interface it employs might be a little unfriendly for some users, but on the whole it looks like an excellent system with real promise. And given that it’s built on open libraries for geo-statistics and visualization, the tools can presumably be ported into other GIS packages, including open source packages, relatively easily.