Software Review
Journal of Geographic Information and Decision Analysis, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 83-89


Ângela Guimarães Pereira
Institute for Systems Informatics and Safety (ISIS), Joint Research Centre (JRC - EC), 21020 Ispra (VA), Italy


1. General Information
Name and Version of the Software GRASSLAND version 1.1, 1996
(beta version for Solaris 2.4 on UNIX SUN workstation)
Software Vendor/Programmer L.A.S. Inc. Montreal, Canada 
Platform Availability PC, SUN Workstation (UNIX)
Operating System Requirements PC: Windows 95 or Windows NT 3.5x or Windows NT 4.0
UNIX WS: Solaris 2.4
Hardware Requirements
Processor PC version: An Intel 486 or Pentium-based computer
RAM 8 Mb (16 Mb recommended)
Disk Storage 32 Mb free space (a hard disk of 1 GB is recommended)
Video 8 bit video adapter (recommended resolution 800 x 600)
Printer/Plotter A postscript printer/plotter 
Other SUN version: requires GRASS 4.1 installed 
Available Media CD-ROM

Also available from the L.A.S. ftp site

Language Availability English
Technical Support Availability Excellent: via electronic mail, telephone, fax, or a bug report form available at the L.A.S. web site
Cost Basic (PC-version): $849 (US) per license (Windows 95/NT)

Special educational price: the discount offered depends on the number of purchased licenses (e.g., 2 to 5 licenses = 25% discount)

L.A.S. provides a 30-day free trial

UNIX Solaris 2.4: Freeware

General Software Capabilities
Data Management sharing and exchange of datasets through an Internet based client-server architecture
exporting and importing functions
file manipulation
ODBC database links (only vector layers)
Workbench procedure workbench
Map Display and Printing drag and drop map viewer
map support and report capabilities
WYSIWYG postscript map printing
Image Processing group management
signature generation
geometric corrections
Spatial Analysis neighborhood operations
overlay analysis
map algebra
terrain modeling
simple statistics
point modeling
Useful Web Sites GRASSLAND:

Functionality of GRASSLAND:

2. Ratings

The following table presents ratings for the software in eight categories: GIS, mapping, decision analysis, modeling, image processing, multimedia, user-friendliness, and ability to customize the software.
The rating system is as follows:
1=POOR: Nonexistent, incomplete, inadequate, buggy, etc.
2=FAIR: Difficult to use, quirky, not organized, not intuitive, etc.
3=GOOD: Sufficient capabilities, organized, satisfactory presentation, no bugs, relatively easy to learn, etc.
4=VERY GOOD: Solid fundamental capabilities and more, easy to learn and use, nicely organized, good presentation, etc.
5=EXCELLENT: Extensive and impressive capabilities, nice surprises, very easy to learn and use features, outstanding organization and presentation, etc.

GIS Capabilities
Formal Decision Analysis Capabilities
Modeling Capabilities
Image Processing Capabilities
Multimedia Capabilities

3. Review

GRASSLAND is a commercial interface to GRASS developed by Logiciels et Applications Scientifiques (L.A.S.) Inc. (an affiliated company of the Groupe MLC Polytech Inc.), which has its headquarters in Montreal, Canada. The public domain GIS GRASS 4.1 (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System) was developed by the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories (CERL).
A review of GRASSLAND 1.1 can be completed from two different approaches:

        The software will be examined with these two different perspectives in mind.
Although the software is provided in two basic flavors: 1) for Windows 95 & Windows NT 3.5x or later and 2) for Solaris 2.4 on UNIX machines, this review will focus on the Windows 95 version because this platform is probably the most widely accessible. The Solaris 2.4 version is a beta release available at no cost from the L.A.S. ftp site, and it is not much different from the Windows version. GRASSLAND is developed using a 4th generation macro-language called TCL/Tk (Tool Command Language/Toolkit), which is a modular, open-architecture public domain programming language. Hence, all GRASSLAND user interfaces are TCL/Tk scripts that the user can access and modify.
        GRASSLAND 1.1 is not difficult to install on PCs. The software is provided on a CD-ROM. In special cases the vendor will provide access to the software through the Internet (by way of their ftp site). The software is provided with some documentation (only the Windows versions), but there is comprehensive on-line assistance that includes a User's Guide, a Reference Guide, and a Programmer's Guide. The software also comes with a data set (of the Spearfish region of South Dakota, USA) which a new user can try out with the tutorial.

3.1 Interface

For a former user of GRASS 4.1, who is used to the command-line syntax, GRASSLAND 1.1 for Windows 95 is quite exciting. The drag-and-drop, menu-driven graphical user interface (GUI) is user-friendly, modern, and appealing. This new interface gives easy access to the functionality that is available in GRASS 4.1 (which can take quite a long time for a user to feel a sense of comfort). This functionality includes data-base management, mapping, spatial analysis, and image processing toolboxes. Moreover, the openness of GRASS is maintained, and the user/programmer is encouraged to develop his/her own tools (as in GRASS 4.1). In this regard, the main advantage of GRASSLAND is that the interface requires much less computer expertise as compared with GRASS 4.1.
        Two other features make this interface very appealing: mapping (display and printing) and workbench capabilities. The "Map Viewer," the "Legend Designer," and the "Print Designer" are substantially enhanced over GRASS 4.1 display and mapping capabilities. The latter tool permits you to customize the appearance and contents of a map, as well as to select and set options for the printer in a WYSIWYG fashion. The Procedure Workbench is a work space in which procedures may be created, linked, and executed. A procedure consists of a GRASS command executed on a map layer, which then produces a new map layer or report. These procedures can be saved and used in other sessions. Clearly, this is a helpful feature for the user who must carry out repetitive work or complicated tasks. GRASSLAND 1.1 does not feature any multimedia capabilities. However, a future release is expected to include a three-dimensional visualization tool.

3.2 Data Access

Apart from the operation enhancements provided by the new GUI, GRASSLAND was designed to overcome the compatibility difficulties due to the myriad of data formats available from other software packages. GRASSLAND features a client-server architecture, therefore providing access to remote data-stores via Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). It introduces a new technology for standardized access and transfer of geospatial data: the Open Geospatial Datastore Interface (OGDI). This feature gives access to various geospatial data formats, making it a flexible and useful product to overcome the difficulties of the growing number of geodata products and formats. So, the OGDI facilitates the retrieval, conversion, and integration of several types of data. For example, the software is compatible with all of the major GIS data exchange formats, including DIGEST VRF/VPF/VMAP, Arc/Info(TM) coverages, DLG, DXF, Erdas(TM) raster, and many others.

3.3 Image Processing

The image processing toolbox of GRASSLAND is the same as that offered by GRASS 4.1, which is quite comprehensive. It includes functions for group management, signature generation, classification, enhancement (including IFFT, PCA, CCA, etc.), and geometric corrections functions.

3.4 Spatial Analysis

Modeling Capabilities Like GRASS 4.1, while GRASSLAND 1.1 handles vector information it is primarily oriented toward raster data analysis. The spatial analysis functions, and thus the modeling capabilities, are those of GRASS 4.1 (in this version mostly those "main" and "alpha" functions). The software includes terrain modeling, neighborhood analysis, interpolation techniques, and overlay analysis (which are quite powerful) and simple statistical capabilities. More spatial analysis tools are foreseen in future versions of GRASSLAND.
Decision Support Capabilities The spatial analysis toolbox of GRASS 4.1 is helpful for land-use planning and environmental assessment purposes, monitoring, as well as many spatial decision situations. However, the software does not contain a specific module with formal tools for multicriteria decision analysis. In fact, the software does not have any isolated commands that pursue multicriteria or multi-objective evaluation. Likewise, GRASSLAND 1.1 does not provide specific multicriteria decision analysis tools. Despite this fact, GRASSLAND modeling and visualization capabilities are useful for decision support in general.

3.5 Audience

GRASS is primarily research oriented but GRASSLAND extends the audience to other users who may not be so interested in developing new commands and algorithms for spatial analysis. A new user (to the GRASS world!) would not take very long to get familiar with GRASSLAND 1.1, especially if he/she uses the tutorial as a first step to learn about the software.

4. Future Developments

Several new developments are soon anticipated for GRASSLAND. These include three-dimensional visualization techniques, more editing capabilities, and further enhancement of the already comprehensive image processing toolbox. LAS. Inc. also foresees the availability of the software in other languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese.

5. Conclusions

From the first perspective presented earlier in the introduction of this review, GRASSLAND is the expected GUI for a product such as GRASS; as such, it is an interface that answers the long-awaited expectations of GRASS users. The software provides easy access to powerful mapping capabilities and it eases the use of GRASS GIS analytical capabilities and the automation of repetitive tasks through the workbench procedures. The ability to handle a large number of geospatial data formats is a breakthrough as well. The problems of incompatibilities with data from existing geospatial software products is seriously reduced. Furthermore, this feature moves the product a large step foward - encouraging accessibility toward networked, distributed spatial information.
        GRASSLAND does not feature any spatial analysis capabilities that were not already included in GRASS. So, unfortunately, there is no such thing as a multicriteria decision analysis toolbox. This could be an improvement to this product that would require the developers to expand upon the functionality in GRASS. Also regarding the second perspective presented earlier, the developers of GRASSLAND might want to provide new analysis and visualization tools which correspond with ongoing research issues in the field of GIS (such as a specific framework for Environmental Impact Assessment, dynamic modeling capabilities, multimedia and virtual reality, etc.).
       GRASSLAND 1.1 continues to be a unique product in that the source code for the whole application is provided to the user - permitting full integration of user developed tools with the GIS. That should assure GRASS research users about the preserved openness of GRASSLAND, and therefore the possibility of developing and integrating specific modeling tools within the GRASSLAND architecture. 
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