By Blakelee Mills on Monday, 25 January 2016
Category: Surfer

Comparing Surfer and QGIS

Quite often people will ask, “What are the differences between Surfer and QGIS?” Below is a comparison of the main features and functionality of each program. Surfer, as you may know, provides 2D and 3D contouring complete with surface mapping software. QGIS has an assortment of plugins, and we haven’t been able to review them all. I encourage you review and let me know if there is any missing information. As new information comes in, I’ll be sure to update the matrix below.

  Surfer version 13 QGIS version 2.12.3
Price 1-3 licenses $849/license
4-10 licenses $805/license
11+ licenses $765/license
Free
Development Model Commercial Open source
Plug-ins

Free Resources
Website

Live technical support
Phones

Email

Live chat

Knowledge Base

Forums

User Groups

Documentation
In-program help

Training manual

Paid for Resources
Full PDF user guide

Live training

Provided by
Golden Software &
authorized resellers

Provided by 3rd party
contributors
Map Types
Base map

Contour map

Image map

Post map

Classed post map

Shaded relief map

Vector map (1-grid)

Vector map (2-grid)

Watershed map

Viewshed map

3D surface map

3D wireframe map

Pie chart thematic map

Histogram thematic map

Map Features
Axes

Profiles

Scale bar

Color scale

Coordinate systems

Import/edit/export attributes

Measure distance

Measure angles

Digitize XYZ points

Overlay maps

Stack maps

Log contours

Save/load contour levels

Edit contours

Inline contour labels

Map transparency

Gridding/Interpolation/Rasterizing
Inverse distance

Kriging

Minimum curvature

Modified Shepard's method

Natural neighbor

Nearest neighbor

Polynomial regression

Radial basis function

Triangulation with linear interpolation

Moving average

Data metrics

Local polynomial

Function grid

Variogram modeling

Grid date/time data

Grid reports with statistics

Faults

Breaklines

Anisotropy

TIN support

Grid Functions
Math

Calculus

Filter

Spline smooth

Blank/null

Convert

Extract

Transform

Mosaic

Volume

Slice

Residuals

Grid info

Grid node editor

Assign coordinate system

Regrid

Grid metadata

Grid transpose

3D File Viewer

Worksheet

Automation

Import/Export
Import options
33
22
Export options
27
28
Open grid
47
64
Save grid
24
64

Beyond the actual functionality, another difference between Surfer and QGIS is the development models. Surfer is a commercially developed program whereas QGIS is open source and is developed by a community of contributors. While it’s difficult to quantify, I believe it’s worth mentioning the pros and cons, according to me, associated with our commercial software model and QGIS’s open source model.

As a commercially developed product, Surfer comes with a price tag. Since people are spending their hard earned dollars, it is our duty to develop a high quality product. Our developers adhere to rigorous developmental principles, all code is reviewed by another developer, and Surfer undergoes extensive internal and external testing periods. We put a great focus on the usability of Surfer to ensure feature are easy to access. Beyond the quality of the product, we take great pride in the support we provide Surfer customers. All technical support is free for any version of the product (yes, even back to MS-DOS). This includes live phone, email, and chat along with our 24x7 web resources including the open forums and knowledge base. We also have a dedicated documentation writer who ensures all aspects of Surfer is documented.

Another point worth mentioning is longevity. Golden Software has been around since 1983, and we’ve sold licenses in 185 countries and on all seven continents.

Alternatively, as an open source product, QGIS is completely free and is developed through the good intentions of anyone wishing to contribute to its feature set. As such, anyone from a hobby developer to a senior developer can contribute, but there are minimal quality controls around code quality and program usability. QGIS does seem to have a strong community of followers which is important because it is to this community you will turn for technical support. Paid-for commercial support is also offered through 3rd party contractors. Like the development of QGIS, documentation is handled through the good intentions of volunteers which results in a wide range of poorly documented features to well documented features.

Let me know your thoughts on Surfer vs. QGIS. What do you like and what do you dislike about each program?

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