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Why is Ubuntu Using Google Maps and not OpenStreetMaps?

For using online maps, users have a variety of choices. In the spirit of FLOSS, openness and user rights, OpenStreetmap is clearly the best solution. However, Ubuntu is still using Google maps with all the terms and restrictions that come with it on the LoCo website. Does anybody know why?

When using Google maps, the usage comes with a lot of restrictions as explained in the terms by Google. However, OpenStreetMap has clearly better terms for users of the maps as well as website providers using maps on their websites. OpenStreetmaps are currently licences by Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 2.0 licence which is soon to be replaced by the Open Database License (ODbL) as explained in the OpenStreetMap wiki.

Furthermore, the OpenStreetMap community is involved in the FLOSS community by providing applications and tools related to online mapping and maps. Is it not time to move from Google maps to OpenStreetMaps?

Certainly, it is not clear why Ubuntu is still using Google maps. It might be that similar to the home page of Ubuntu provided browsers, Canonical is paid money by Google for linking to their search website. This is certainly possible, and is certainly something that has some weight in the reasoning.

It also could be that OpenStreetMap does not provide currently certain technical feature, which are needed. However, if this is the case, these should be discussed, and it is very likely that such issue can be addressed either by contribution to OpenStreetMap or by the OpenStreetMap community.

It would certainly nice if in the very near future the Ubuntu community could use OpenStreetMap on the LoCo website, and hence use the ability to edit the maps provided by OpenStreetMap to make it either for Ubuntu Users to find Ubuntu community events.

Update: Removed reference to maps in Launchpad since as some commented about, Launchpad does not use Google maps anymore.



The answer is quite simple:

Canonical needs to use the maps on an SSL-encrypted site. Currently, no OSM-backed implementation that can serve over SSL exists (to my knowledge), while Google offers such a service (at a price). Canonical does not want to have to host all the map and satellite imagery data themselves, so they go with a hosted solution that meets their needs.

Also, if I'm incorrect and an SSL-enabled embed for OSM is available, Canonical has made it clear on Launchpad [1], that while they would love to see a community contribution that addressed this, this issue is simply not important enough to them to dedicate internal resources to at this time. The map integration is 'baked', and Canonical would rather spend resources on new functionality rather than rewrites of existing functionality.


If those are the only problems, such things should be able to be resolved by the community. Maybe some LoCo would be able to run a sprint for it, maybe even in collaboration with OpenStreetMap.

For me https was a problem, too. But i got a solu^H^H workaround with redirection coming form the https server:

Launchpad removed Google maps 5 months ago. the code is gone.

*sigh* why the need to focus on the negative aspect of this project. Yes in an ideal world it would be nice to use OSM, but it's not possible, one large reason for this is, is that in some countries and areas, the places are not well mapped. Ideally this wouldn't be the case.

Also we have developers who are willing and able to use Google Maps, if folks want to help, the LD Dev folks are always looking for more people to get involved. One area was OSM at the start but not enough people stepped up to help. So if you can help with this and want to why not join the LD Dev team.

There is nothing negative about this post, but just the question what needs to be done to make it possible. Suggestions to change things or make it better are not by default negative!

So why don't you write a patch for lauchpad that converts the google maps links to OSM links?

Hi txwikinger,

Your question, "Shouldn't Ubuntu use OpenStreetMap?" is a reasonable one. At first glance one would think, "Hey, Open Maps, let's use them in our Open Project." And the answer might be more complex than, "Yeah, let's do that!"

Often there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of OpenStreetMap.

OpenStreetMap is not a replacement for web map APIs.

OpenStreetMap is a way to collaborate and create the best possible data for use with whatever API you choose.

Part of the confusion may relate to the web site which features a prominent map, just as do many web map providers. But the focus of the OpenStreetMap Foundation is not to provide an API to let you easily show maps from our servers on thousands of mobile devices. The focus is to let you keep your local mirror of OSM data up to date, so that you can easily show maps on thousands of mobile devices from your servers.

The OpenStreetMap community does hear from time to time,
"OSM is harder to use" - True. But Our goal is not to provide that web map API for general-purpose consumers of maps. We provide the web maps for other OpenStreetMap contributors as a way to help them as they contribute data to the project.

"It doesn't do what I want" - True. OSM doesn't even provide an API to display more than a single marker on the map. Again, that isn't something required for our data contributors.

"Well, I used OpenStreetMap but they blocked my users." - True again. We've blocked users and applications who have made unreasonable demands on our infrastructure. That sort of use of OSM infrastructure affects the ability of OSM data contributors to contribute data to the project.

So, I like the idea of Ubuntu making greater use of OpenStreetMap and I also see that doing so is not just a matter of unplug-current-map-supplier then plug-in-OSM. Beyond that, Ubuntu may have specific requirements that are not solved in a way that is immediately apparent from the OpenStreetMap documentation.

So let me know if I can help with that. If somebody on the Ubuntu-side wants to look in to using OSM, I'll be happy to help.

Best regards,

My roommate wrote a tool to display a world map of our mirrors, and he first tried to use Open Street Map, as he contributed to and as he clearly understand free software value. However after a whole evening trying to do simple thing, he decided to test Google maps, and it worked directly.

So I guess that simply because Google maps is more easy to use than OSM for that.

OpenStreetMap is nice. I like it, and I have contributed data to it myself.

But it's simply not nearly complete enough to be useful in many places yet. It's getting a lot better, and getting better fast - three years ago Osaka basically didn't exist; now the city center is gaining decent coverage.

But look at these examples.

Kobe, a city of a million and a half, and part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto sprawl:

Google Maps:,+Osaka+Prefecture,+Japan...


Nara, a decent-sized city in Kansai, and one of the major tourist attractions in Japan:

Google Maps:,+Osaka+Prefecture,+Japan...


Even the middle of Osaka city is rather incomplete; here Tennoji in the south center:

Google Maps:,+Osaka+Prefecture,+Japan...


Note the lack of a major hospital and of the very large temple that gives the area its name.

My point is that Ubuntu needs maps with worldwide coverage, and in major areas of the world the coverage just isn't there yet. It is improving rapidly; all three examples above would have had almost nothing at all a couple of years ago. But right now, you couldn't use OSM to find your way in any of these three examples I gave.

Realistically, you should call for links to OSM for those areas where coverage is good, and replace Google Maps links to other areas as they improve. But switching wholesale just isn't a goo idea at this time.

You ask why are Ubuntu using Google maps in lieu of OpenStreetMaps.... if you lived in places like Australia like I do, you would understand why. We have struggled to get any kind of decent broadband and now that we have it we have a lot of catching up to do before things like OSM have anything like half decent data... I like OSM but of course for us down here it still needs to mature. Google Maps for all its restrictions that you mention do provide a pretty good product for a free mapping exercise and thanks to that places like Australia and others that are worse off can still make use of the internet.

By all means champion the spread of OSM but don't "cut your nose off to spite your face" as the saying goes.



while this is a good point, however there are ways to solve them. Often OpenStreetMap is able to convince governments to donate their data to be imported into the OpenStreetMap database. I am not sure if anybody in Australia has already approached the government for this possibility however, it is certainly worth a shot.

Secondly, often aerial photos are available to work on maps without the need to live in the area and produce gps data by hand. Even Microsoft has donated such imagery. This would allow even people outside Australia or other places that need help to help from whereever they live.

The funniest thing about this post isn’t that it’s complaining, in January 2011, about Launchpad using Google Maps when Launchpad hasn’t used Google Maps for over four months.

No, the funniest thing about this article is its suggestion that Google might be paying Canonical to use Google Maps — when it’s on public record that the reason Launchpad doesn’t use Google Maps any more is that Canonical was having to pay Google too much for them.

If you want Launchpad or the LoCo Directory to use OSM, then offer Canonical an SSL-compliant tile service at a reasonable price (not “LoCo sprint” pixie dust, but an actual service), and submit a patch for the site to use it. They’re both open-source projects.

Thanks for your clarifications. I indeed have not noticed that the maps have disappeared from launchpad, or probably more accurately have thought it was a temporary glitch.

Looking at the bug report about this it doesn't seem it's difficult or missing data is bad enough anymore to justify not using OSM. uses OSM just fine.

OSM is not perfect everywhere but at the level of detail we require in Launchpad (cities), OSM data could be improved (if it needs to at all). Everytime you so much as go to the grocery with your smartphone or GPS you could be improving OSM's data by using free open source software such as OpenSatNav or OSM Tracker. In fact a smartphone or GPS aren't even necessary, you could be using Walking Papers.

Given the massive community Ubuntu has, we already have resources for this - but it's a chicken-and-egg situation. If the community is not proposed to use such resources, it doesn't - and they don't improve to fit its needs.

While I appreciate the pragmatic view on mapping, the longer we use Google Maps, the more opportunities we miss to significantly contribute to OSM, including its API, data and governance (and perhaps, infrastructure).

Perhaps we can take out a few resources from StackExchange and direct them to this issue ? :)

I think I am paraphrasing a remark made by Jono, but frankly I can't remember who said this as it was a few years ago, but the story is that the guy who coded the map features on Launchpad used Google maps because his street was not on Openstreetmap at that time.

OpenStreetMap allows anybody to add such information.