6 amazing alternative Mapping Developer Engine/Kernels to ArcGIS Engine/Developer Toolkit

When it comes to developers’ options for geo-enabling their applications be it a desktop, Mobile and Web Apps, ArcGIS Engine has been the venerable choice especially for enterprises that can fulfill the EULA and pay the license fee. And this has been for a number of reasons we are already very aware of, ruling out the usual cliche of “good support” ~ 90% of the support you get from online forums not the time you spend on phone calls with professional services. ArcGIS Ecosystem provides a lot geospatial capabilities from Server technology, desktop, cloud and a number of other frontier technology offerings. ArcGIS Engine has give birth to a number of useful developer toolkits, APIs and SDKs and for this it naturally becomes the “enterprisy” choice to ride on for development needs. Especially where enough homework has not been done.

However, today I want to introduce you to a number of very mature and powerful mapping developer engines/kernels that will forever change your GIS development capabilities and productivity and most importantly budget. Call them toolkits, kernels,SDKs or APIs, they all deliver the key capability to harness spatial data in your application as a developer. The key aspect that set them apart are platfroms supported whether it works on Windows/Linux, Android/iOS, Desktop/Web), the development language/platform (Delphi/.Net/Java/C++/Python/Qt/Javascript), Design Patterns, Data formats/sources supported, 3D/2D support, support for open data standards (a big deal btw), interoperability among just a few subsurface differences.

Let’s delve into the list

Altus Mapping Engine

Referred to as the “The supercar of mapping engines”. One of my favorites because of it’s simplicity and robustness. Provides cross platform SDKs (Mobile: iOS, Android, Windows (.Net/WPF), Web). It also provides the Altus Server to generate reliable and high-performance streamable or packaged content for the Altus Mapping Engine.

Support for all native data types including raster data
Provides tools for flight simulation, navigation, defencescenarios and situational awareness
Seamless 3D/2D support allowing switching of context on the fly
Native support for terrain models Check out this Fiddle 

Learn more here

Luciad Engine

Luciad’s efficient APIs provide users with advanced geospatial analytics applications that are both intuitive and beautiful.
With support for a number of formats and standards;


VECTOR DATA; GM, Collada, ESRI Shapefile, GeoJSON, MapInfo MIF & MAP, OGC GML, OpenFlight (3-D), SVG, Wavefront OBJ (3-D))


OGC Filter
OGC Symbology Encoding (SE)
ISO 19115 metadata

Has full support for Browser through the LuciadRIA for developing lightweight applications for the Web leveraging WebGL, HTML5 and Javascript to deliver desktop-like performance on your web.

LuciadFusion which is the Server technology for serving multitude of data formats to varios applications.

LuciadMobile empowers users to create flexible applications for Android devices.

LuciadLightspeed which allows users to rapidly develop high performance C2 and location intelligence applications with clean design implementation and rapid application development.

Learn More on Luciad here


TatukGIS Developer Kernel

A GIS software development kit (SDK) for developing stand-alone, client-server, web server, embedded, and mobile applications.
The Developer Kernel is available as multiple product editions designed for different development environments, frameworks, and operating systems;

Delphi, .NET WinForms/WPF, ASP.NET, ActiveX, and Java

Tatul DK has native support for most (raster, vector, and geodatabase) formats, state-of-the-art support for coordinate systems, 3D visualization support, and compliance with many open standards.

Support for geodatabases: PostGIS, Oracle Spatial & Oracle GeoRaster, Microsoft SQL 2008 (and up), ESRI ArcSDE, IBM DB2 Spatial Extender, IBM Informix Spatial DataBlade, Sybase SQL Anywhere Spatial, Geomedia, etc. Geodatabse support matrix 

Just like any other feature rich toolkit it’s subject to licensing.

Explore Tatuk capability matrix here 

Get Samples here:

Carmenta Engine

With the Carmenta Engine Software Development Kit (SDK), developers are getting efficient, easy to use, modern development tools that enable them to develop more in less time. Carmenta Engine runs on Windows, Linux and Android, and the SDK supports the use of popular development platforms, such as .NET, Java and C++.

Carmenta Engine supports open data standrdas by making it easy connect to map servers using interfaces standardized by OGC, the Open Geospatial Consortium. Also supports direct connection to many different file based data sources, as well as geospatial databases.


  • Has 3D and 2D data support includig rendering Terain models
  • Parallel and asynchronous data processing support
  • Reads geographic data directly from more than 70 formats.

The following six steps are almost always performed when creating a new application using Carmenta Engine:

  • Use Carmenta Studio to make a map configuration that reads and visualizes your map data.
  • Test and tune your map configuration with the help of Carmenta Explorer.
  • Add one of the Carmenta Engine map controls to your application UI.
  • Load the map configuration into the application, and connect its view to the map control.
  • Use the Carmenta Engine API to control the map and add all other geospatial objects that should be part of the presentation.
RELATED:  Create web map applications using Mango

When the time comes to deploy the application, include the Carmenta Engine Runtime in the application’s installation program

Demo here

MapLink Pro SDKs

Developed by Envitia a British company specialized in the GIS software sector, MapLink Pro SDKs provide a toolkit for developing situational awareness applications with moving map data, imagery, terrain and 3D visualization.

MapLink Pro provides a complete Mobile SDK for Android. MapLink M0bile

It has 5 components:

Core SDKs: The basis of all MapLink Pro applications providing Surface and Layers which are the constructors responsible for holding, manipulating and displaying geospatial data, Geometry for handling geometric primitives and building block for construction of complex features such as geofences, geometry based terrain models etc and Coordinate Systems providing datums and projections for the purpose of transformations.

Terrain SDK: The Terrain SDK provides fast access to layered terrain data that has been prepared through MapLink Pro Studio. It can also load DTED data natively, without pre-processing.

3D SDK: The 3D SDK supports the display in 3D of vector and raster mapping, overlay data, and dynamic objects. It supports the import of 3D topology models via the MapLink Pro Terrain SDK, the draping of MapLink Pro Core SDK data-layers over these terrain meshes, and the display of data, such as airways, elevated in 3D.

MapLink Pro Studio; a separate, stand-alone application that is both a cartographic design tool and a data pre-processing station. MapLink Pro Studio functionality can also be embedded directly into an application, to perform pre-processing on the fly.

The Editor SDK; provides additional facilities for the interactive creation and manipulation of vector overlays. GUI building blocks are provided for the creation of editing panels and symbology selection palettes.

For non-local datasets, MapLink Pro supports OGC web services to display data from a Web Map Service (WMS) or Web Map Tiling Service (WMTS).

To learn more visit their website here

MapWinGIS and DotSpatial

Developed within the greater MapWindow Open Source Project.

MapWinGIS.ocx is used to provide GIS/mapping functionality to user-written Windows Forms based applications. Code can be written in Visual Basic 6, VB .NET or C# and can be commercial or open source. MapWinGIS is the mapping control used in MapWindow4 and MW5.

DotSpatial is a Free GIS programmer library and tools for C# and .NET based applications. The DotSpatial library is written in C# and can be used in commercial or open source projects.

Completely Open Source (distributed under the MIT-License) simply you can use in other open source or commercial projects with zero liability on the producers.

Visit the Website and Documentations

These are just but a few of the Mapping Engines out there. We’ll continue to bring you more of here engines to keep you abreast with what is available and the technology trends.

This resources should help you next time you have to make decision on what to give to your developers if you deciding for your business. If you are a developer yourself take drive test whit these mapping toolkits using the sample codes to test what is good with you hands.

Watch out for our next piece which will delve into Open Source Engines and then those specific for the Web and Mobile such as the great Cesium.

Good Luck out there 🙂

Steve Ochieng
About Steve Ochieng 18 Articles
Geospatial Specialist | Avid Reader and Vivid Writer here | Geospatial Tech Advocacy and Evangelism | GeoProgrammer and Follower of @geohipster
  • Nice one

  • Dan Pressler

    I’ve used FME by Safe Software (Safe.com) out of Surry, British Columbia, Canada (Near Vancouver). Handles several hundred formats in & out & some very powerful manipulation capabilities. brief demos of many samples can be found on YouTube

  • Thank you @danpressler:disqus for this. Quite interesting