Computer mapping evolved with the computer itself in the 1960s. However, the origin of the term GIS began with the Canadian Department of Forestry and Rural Development. Dr. Roger Tomlinson headed a team of 40 developers in an agreement with IBM to build the Canada Geographic Information System (CGIS). The CGIS tracked the natural resources of Canada and allowed the profiling of these features for further analysis. The CGIS stored each type of land cover as a different layer. It also stored data in a Canadian-specific coordinate system suitable for the entire country that was devised for optimal area calculations. While the technology used was primitive by today's standards, the system had phenomenal capability at that time. The CGIS included software features that seem quite modern: map projection switching, rubber sheeting of scanned images, map scale change, line smoothing and generalization to reduce the number of points in a feature, automatic gap closing for polygons, area measurement, dissolving and merging of polygons, geometric buffering, creation of new polygons, scanning, and digitizing of new features from the reference data.
Tomlinson is often called the father of GIS. After launching the CGIS, he earned his doctorate from the University of London with his 1974 dissertation, entitled The application of electronic computing methods and techniques to the storage, compilation, and assessment of mapped data, which describes GIS and geospatial analysis. Tomlinson now runs his own global consulting firm, Tomlinson Associates Ltd., and remains an active participant in the industry. He is often found delivering the keynote addresses at geospatial conferences.
CGIS is the starting point of geospatial analysis as defined by this book. However, this book would not have been written if not for the work of Howard Fisher and the Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. His work on the SYMAP GIS software that outputs maps to a line printer, started an era of development at the laboratory, which produced two other important packages and, as a whole, permanently defined the geospatial industry. SYMAP led to other packages including GRID and the Odyssey project from the same lab. GRID was a raster-based GIS system that used cells to represent geographic features instead of geometry. GRID was written by Carl Steinitz and David Sinton. The system later became IMGRID. Next came Odyssey. Odyssey was a team effort led by Nick Chrisman and Denis White. It was a system of programs that included many advanced geospatial data management features that are typical of modern geodatabase systems. Harvard attempted to commercialize these packages with limited success. However, their impact is still seen today. Virtually, every existing commercial and open source package owes something to these code bases.
Howard Fisher produced a 1967 film using the output from SYMAP to show the urban expansion of Lansing, Michigan, from 1850 to 1965 by hand coding decades of property information into the system. The analysis took months but would take only a few minutes to create now using modern tools and data. You can see the film at http://youtu.be/xj8DQ7IQ8_o.
There are now dozens of graphical user interface (GUI) geospatial desktop applications available today from companies including Esri, ERDAS, Intergraph, and ENVI, to name a few. Esri is the oldest, continuously operating GIS software company, which started in the late 1960s. In the open source realm, packages including Quantum GIS (QGIS) and Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) are widely used. Beyond comprehensive desktop software packages, software libraries for the building of new software exist in the thousands.