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Open Source Maps for the Garmin

April 14, 2009

Recently I’ve been a bit frustrated by my GPS. I have a very nice Garmin Vista HCx that I had my City Navigator purchased for. But for some dumb reason I didn’t install the whole set on my GPS a few years ago when I bought it – only the areas where I was travelling at the time. After a new hard drive in my laptop, rebuilding everything and now a new Acer netbook I’m looking forward to travelling with, I can’t seem to find my original install software. The maps were still on my Garmin so I was OK navigation wise, but not on my computer to explore and mark waypoints. I got a new copy of Trip & Waypoint manager, but couldn’t move the partial maps back to my computer without the correct unlock code. (It is apparently different for the GPS and the computer.)

I went to Garmin’s website looking for some maps for South America – we’ll be taking a cruise in May, and I thought it would be a great way to explore a bit before we head there, mark some points of interest, and still be able to quickly find our way back to the ship when we’re done. Turns out they don’t have commercial maps for that region! But I did find some community created maps I was able to download with lots of points of interest.

But then I transferred them over to my GPS. Uh, oh. I wiped out my City Navigator data and the last surviving copy of my license. Now I no longer have my license AND I don’t have the cursed maps. Sure, I am set up for the Caribbean, but not for anything else I use my GPS for. This is where I start cursing Garmin and their ridiculous licensing and protection scheme. While I love my GPS’s hardware (which is unfortunately also showing its age as the glue holding the rubber strip starts to let go) I haven’t touched the maps on it in a long time specifically because the unit’s software seems so difficult to navigate. What good is a $300 GPS with only major highways on it? C’mon!

Lots of companies have built great maps now. And there is a community of other GPS users out there that have also had similar difficulties with Garmin’s maps, and lack of updates. So when I barked about my problems on Twitter I was happy to learn that there are now community supported OpenStreetMaps (OSM) available now in Garmin format, with FREQUENT updates, including routing!

Anyhow, after a whole bunch of searching, this is the site I came up with:

Going to try to download some of the local tiles, see how they work, and then perhaps download up to date maps for our trip!

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