September 30, 2021

A Brief History of Global Mapper – Part II

Written by: David McKittrick


As any 5-year-old will attest, every good story begins with, “Once Upon a Time…”. For Global Mapper, that time was 1997, when its predecessor, dlgv32, was conceived by the USGS and brought to fruition by Mike Childs. Continuing with the storytelling analogy, dlgv32 was the ugly duckling that would eventually transform itself into the beautiful swan that is Global Mapper. Devotees of Hans Christian Andersen will concur that the transition from cygnet to swan was a slow and often arduous process; an experience that can also be applied to Global Mapper.

In the first part of this brief history of Global Mapper, we chronicled the software’s formative years from its first fleeting steps as a simple viewing application to its adolescence as a fledgling GIS tool. In the second part, we continue the story as Global Mapper undertakes a remarkable evolution, establishing itself as a preeminent player in the geospatial software space.

It is worth noting that for much of this journey, Global Mapper remained under the singular charge of Mike Childs. Many users have expressed amazement that the software gained a worldwide following with just one individual at the helm. Mike was somehow able to concurrently develop, distribute, and support Global Mapper with minimal assistance. Stories of Mike responding to customer questions at ten o’clock on a Saturday evening, during which he would not only provide one-on-one assistance, but would often tweak the code and deliver a custom build, are the stuff of legend. While Global Mapper has developed significantly since these early days, this direct interaction with customers is still an essential part of its development process.

At the conclusion of part one of the Brief History of Global Mapper, we had reached 2004 and version 5.09 of Global Mapper. By that stage, it was already apparent that it was beginning to turn heads in the worldwide GIS community. On a personal level, it was around this time that I first encountered the software. Working in cartographic production for DeLorme, a company renowned for its Atlas and Gazetteer series, I needed a tool that would allow me to manipulate some of the datasets that were used in the company’s paper and digital products. As with most Global Mapper aficionados at the time, my introduction to the software was through word-of-mouth recommendation from a colleague, who in turn had learned of Global Mapper from a client at a former workplace. I subsequently recommended it to many of my geospatial comrades. And so on and so forth.

Global Mapper Development Accelerates

Global Mapper version 6, released in late 2004, saw the introduction of several significant new features and functions including the 3D Viewer for rendering a three-dimensional model of terrain data, support for displaying online data (initially limited to TerraServer imagery), the introduction of the batch conversion tool, and support for several new formats including JPEG2000. As a consequence of this expanding functionality, version 6 also saw a price increase from $99 to $199. This rapid development cycle continued with each successive release:


  • Version 6.06 – Global Mapper Package file format for saving a variety of data types in a single compressed file.
  • Version 6.07 – Support for loading LiDAR (.las) files as an elevation grid or as point data.
  • Version 7 – Global Mapper Catalog for efficiently managing large volumes of data, vector search function, Cut-and-Fill volume calculation, and several new digitizer functions including range ring creation.


  • Version 8 – Support for Web Map Services (WMS), KML/KMZ support, and several raster display options including feathering and color balancing.


  • Version 9 – Support for OpenStreetMap vector files, LiDAR (.las) export, JPEG2000/ECW export, and the Combine/Compare Terrain function for analyzing overlapping terrain surfaces.


  • Version 10 – The Coordinate Convertor tool, support for Esri personal geodatabases, CoGo (Coordinate Geometry) for digitizing from known feature dimensions, support for loading photos as clickable picture points based on embedded geotag information, support for tracking multiple GPS devices.


  • Version 11 – Introduction of a 64-bit version of Global Mapper, support for exporting geospatial PDF files, 3D vector rendering, buffering vector features, area display based on specified attributes (thematic mapping).


  • Version 12 – Watershed tool for delineating stream networks and catchment areas, built-in access to NAIP imagery, US 10-meter NED, and global ASTER GDEM terrain data, support for grouping layers in the Overlay Control Center, support for creating vector polygons from colors or elevation ranges in raster layers.


  • Version 13 – Density visualization (heat mapping), attribute joining and calculating, Image Swipe tool for pulling back a raster layer to see underlying data, support for Esri file geodatabases, and network licensing.

Blue Marble Acquires Global Mapper

At the end of 2011, Global Mapper would undergo its most significant transition since its inception, 14 years previous. Maine-based Blue Marble Geographics, a modest geospatial software company, widely known for its expertise in coordinate conversion and geodetics, acquired Global Mapper. Thankfully to all concerned they also acquired the services of Mike Childs. While there were some murmurs of discontent among long-time Global Mapper users who mistakenly thought that Global Mapper had been gobbled up by some faceless corporation (Blue Marble had just over 20 employees at the time), this acquisition proved to be a win-win-win arrangement.

  • Blue Marble won (obviously) because they were able to add Global Mapper to their suite of software offerings.
  • Mike Childs won because he was able to utilize Blue Marble’s sales and support team allowing him to devote more of his time to developing the software. Rumor has it he may have also benefited financially.
  • Finally, Global Mapper users won because, in the ensuing years, the software’s functionality and prominence would grow exponentially, emboldened by an expanding crew of Global Mapper developers, an eager and enthusiastic support team, and a dedicated group of globetrotting sales and marketing specialists.

In the next installment, we conclude this saga and recount the Global Mapper development highlights over the last seven years, culminating in the recently-released version 19. 

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