The Ordnance Survey’s long-awaited API has moved a step closer to launch, with the organisation preparing to announce an alpha release later today.

The ‘OpenSpace’ platform has been in the pipeline for at least a couple of years and will reportedly now be fully unveiled sometime in 2008. 

But the alpha release will allow the OS to say it has complied with the recommendations of the Cabinet Office’s Power of Information Review, which urged it to launch the project by the end of this year.

As expected, the API will just be for non-commercial developers – businesses will still need to acquire licences to get their hands on OS mapping data. Or go to an alternative supplier.

According to The Guardian, the service will offer maps ranging from the 1:1m outline of Great Britain up to street level (1:10,000). But users won’t need to be experts in GIS software.

Former OS chief technology officer Ed Parsons – now geospatial technologist at Google - recently told us that he saw OpenSpace becoming a “kindergarten” for developers, allowing the OS to foster the kind of community that has sprung up around Google Maps’ API.

Responding to OpenSpace’s availability on his blog, Ed says:

“One observation is the limit on the number of maps tiles which may be rendered for an API key, this is not something I have seen elsewhere, but I can understand it as a defence against accusations from commercial users of the data of unfairness.

“Still is great to see something I put so much effort into during my time at the OS finally reaching the public.”

Update: The OS says OpenSpace will be launched publicly “early in the New Year”. More details here.

Related stories:

Interview with mapping guru Ed Parsons

Ordnance Survey opens up to developers