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Desktop GIS Preview

GIS technology is rapidly moving toward a wider group of users. Here are the latest tools available

The past year has seen considerable increases in the capabilities and user-friendliness of desktop GIS systems -- due mainly to the Pentium chip, higher speeds and 32-bit operating systems. A review of recent improvements and new entries clearly shows desktop GIS technology moving toward a wider group of users. Windows-type dialog boxes are replacing esoteric interface commands. More intuitive network servers are enabling general users to access open database management systems without technical hand-holding. Companies like Autodesk and Lotus are integrating GIS/mapping capabilities with their own products, and others are sure to follow. In addition, the growing availability of informational databases on CD is opening new applications for stand-alone desktop mapping systems.

Since new desktop GIS/mapping features and releases have not been on the street long enough to make comparisons, this will be an informational review of software improvements and other developments recently introduced by ESRI, Autodesk, MapInfo, GDS, Lotus and Caliper.

ArcView GIS Version 3.0
The word that best describes ESRI's ArcView GIS Version 3.0 is versatile. The new version provides advanced GIS capabilities through a combination of core enhancements and optional extensions (modules) that can be loaded and unloaded as needed for the application at hand. As ESRI Product Manager Rich Turner pointed out, the extension architecture enables beginners to work with basic core features without being overwhelmed by a lot of advanced capabilities intended for more complex applications.

Also, loading only the extensions to be used minimizes the demand for RAM and hard disk space. Users who want higher-end GIS capabilities will have two new optional extensions, Spatial Analyst and Network Analyst.

ArcView 3.0 core improvements include an extension that accesses databases stored in ESRI's Spatial Database Engine (SDE), in enterprise GIS environments. An Oracle-based server, SDE is a versatile data management and automation tool that can be customized for general users as well as for professionals.

With SDE, for example, the city manager who needs real estate and tax accounting data from the assessor's files can access that information directly, without having to call in a specialist. SDE server license and individual client-license fees are not included in the price of ArcView. SDE is currently an Oracle-based environment; by year end, it will also be Sybase, Informix and Sequel server-based.

Other core enhancements include broader options for classifying theme features and displaying maps thematically. True-Type characters are in, bitmap is out. Users can now customize fonts from other software -- Print Monger, Corel Draw, etc. -- and control the size, placement and orientation of symbols and labels to match feature and map scale. Expanded editing capabilities have been added for creating and editing geographic data sets with a standard digitizer tablet, or mouse; users can digitize paper maps and insert map features with the mouse. They can also control attributes and get data updates when splitting or merging features.

The CAD reader extension provides access to files in multiple CAD data formats: DWG, DGN and DXF. A planner who needs to integrate CAD files with an ArcInfo or other geographic database can do this directly through the CAD reader extension without having to first convert the CAD files to different formats. Another extension enables users to import and manipulate ERDAS IMAGINE images and JFIF public domain images as ArcView image data sources.

The Spatial Analyst extension includes tools that enable users to generate maps based on grid themes; display multiple-raster themes; do grid classifications, make queries, overlays and set up buffers. Users can also do integrated raster-vector theme analysis. For example, highway engineers can determine a route having the least impact on property boundaries and wetlands by overlaying cadastral (vector data) and topographical (raster data) files on a planimetric basemap (image data). Planners running a site suitability study for a new facility can enter spatial and geographic criteria into Spatial Analyst and have the system look for the most suitable locations.

The Network Analyst extension provides tools for time and routing solutions. Typical applications might be finding the location, shortest route, distance and recommended transportation to key points of interest from a hotel or convention center; determining service areas based on client locations and travel times; finding bus routes with the highest probability for ridership based on data from street networks, census demographics and business locations.

Both Spatial Analyst and Network Analyst extensions include suites of advanced analysis tools that can be accessed through Avenue to design custom GIS applications. Avenue is an object-oriented programming language and development environment with the ability to support applications ranging from setting up simple macros to designing complete applications that work with a particular document's graphic user interface. System developers can use these extended analysis tools to provide customized applications for clients.

ArcView is shipped with 1 gigabyte of data on U.S. and world geographic features and demographics. Included are states, counties, major cities, roads and highways; census tract and ZIP code information; detailed county, state and country boundaries, and many other data.

* 486 with 8 MHz of RAM (16 preferable)

* System size: 15 - 20 MB

* With optional extensions: Windows 95, Windows NT, or a 486 with a 32-bit operating environment

* Desktop order center & software information:

* Technical support:

* Discussion list: ArcView-L

Second quarter, '96.

For more information, contact ESRI, 390 New York St., Redlands, CA 92373-8100. 909/793-2853.

AutoCAD Map
Autodesk's first entry into the GIS market is a desktop system that combines AutoCAD with mapping and GIS functions. AutoCAD Map enables users to digitize, maintain and plot engineering-quality maps, thematic maps and map sets. Users can take advantage of existing data by using AutoCAD DWG as its native file format. They can also import and export MIF/MID (MapInfo), SHP (ESRI), DXF and DGN (Intergraph) formats. For those who need AutoCAD and GIS capabilities, AutoCAD Map may be the solution.

The company emphasizes that AutoCAD Map is an engineering-based solution, not a high-level GIS analysis tool. It is designed primarily for the bulk of day-to-day GIS work; creating, editing, maintaining and producing maps, whether for utility field crews, the public works department or a thematic map showing earthquake damage. AutoCAD Map comes with tools for producing various types of map books and will automatically print updated additions.

Key tools for editing are map cleanup -- rubber sheeting to achieve point, line and edge matching; map-edge cutting and boundary clipping for precise breaks and map edges; and area magnification for closer study. The essential GIS functionalities are polygon overlay and thematic mapping; buffer analysis and network analysis.

AutoCAD Map also enables users to save complex queries and multiple map sets as a single file for quick recall. Raster-handling capabilities developed by the company's Geodyssey Partners run inside Map and include plug-ins that range from simple raster backdrop to image processing.

The combined functions of AutoCAD, data management and essential GIS analysis will have a broad range of applications in engineering and public works projects, including parcel mapping, roadway and traffic planning, water, sewer and utilities management. The AutoCAD graphics engine enables AutoCAD Map users to digitize with "double-precision" accuracy; decimals are carried out further than they are in most integer-based systems.

The digitizing process has been shortened by automating certain attribute entries. The traditional approach for creating vector maps has been to digitize graphics first, then go back and link them to associated attributes. With AutoCAD Map, pre-assigned attributes are used for standard graphic features -- rivers, roads, sewer drains, etc. With each graphic entry, the system asks what feature is being digitized and whether it is to be automatically linked to a pre-assigned attribute. Users can add attributes at that time instead of having to go back and put them all in later.

AutoCAD Map supports Oracle, Dbase III and IV, Informix, Paradox, ODBC, SYBS, INGRES, and other database management systems. Users can import and export Intergraph DGN, ESRI Shape, MapInfo MIF/MID, and DXF formats, and convert any DWG file to a DXF file. Also, a new WHIP! Web-browser plug-in lets users view, send and share 2D vector graphics accurately and securely over the Internet via Autodesk's DWF file format. It includes pan, zoom and embedded URL capabilities for navigating complex mapping files.

According to the company, Geodyssey Partners are working on over 200 value-added applications for this product. AutoCAD Map is accompanied by a Geodyssey resource guide containing solutions for municipal and utility applications, such as storm-water management and environmental cleanup -- the latter with all EPA regulations built in. The program is also shipped with a mapping tutorial disk. AutoCAD Map runs on Win 3.1x, Win NT, and Win 95 operating systems.

* 486/Pentium-based PC

* Windows 3.1x (enhanced mode) Windows 95, or Windows NT

* MS - DOS 5.0 or later (for Windows 3.1 only)

* Minimum, 32 MB RAM

* Minimum, 35MB free hard-disk space

* Permanent swap file 64 MB

* VGA and pointer/mouse

* Digitizing tablet is optional


July - August '96

U.S. $4,495.00 SRP

From AutoCAD R13: $995

From AutoCAD R12: $1,500

For more information contact Autodesk, 111 McInnis Parkway, San Rafael, CA 94903. 415/507-5000.

MapInfo Professional
The latest edition of MapInfo's flagship product, MapInfo Professional Version 4, has several new, higher-end mapping and GIS capabilities. Fully compatible with Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and Windows NT, MapInfo Professional has an integrated mapping feature that uses OLE 2.0 (object linking and embedding) to insert maps into other applications. New SQL query functions enable users to share database information across an enterprise. A layering feature allows multiple tables to be linked to a single map, or a tile environment to appear as seamless. The software also has image-importing capabilities, enabling users to import photographs, insert them into maps, or overlay them on resident MapInfo files.

OLE technology enables users to drag and drop maps into other Windows 95 applications -- word processors and spreadsheets. The features can then be activated from within the host application. Also, a map clipping tool lets users cut out a section of map and paste it into another document, as a magnified insert in a larger map for example.

MapInfo Professional users can access, analyze, view, import and export files from all ODBC (open database connectivity)-compliant sources, including Microsoft Access, DB/2, Informix, Ingres, Oracle, Sybase and others. Files can be imported from most raster-image formats, such as BMP, GIF, JPEG, PCX, Targa and TIFF, for enhanced map presentations. Professional also has a new, intuitive "Query Wizard" to assist users in navigating SQL commands.

Other improvements include a layer control that allows different tables to be combined into a single, seamless layer. Once integrated, the appropriate tables open and close as the user pans across a "seamless" map. MapInfo Professional also has expanded labeling options, and a library of True-Type map symbols. The software includes extensive data sets on CD, and is available in 16- and 32-bit versions.

* MS-DOS 5.0 or better

* Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT

* 386 PC (Pentium recommended)

* 4 MB RAM, (8 MB recommended)

* Minimum installation 1 MB, full installation 6 MB

* Floppy drive

* VGA or Windows-adaptable monitor, 256-color support

* FTP and network capability

Free for 90 days, extended and upgraded support programs available



For more information contact MapInfo Corp., One Global View, Troy, NY 12180-8399. 518/285-6000.
Fax 518/285-6060. .

MapInfo Desktop
MapInfo's recently released Desktop is a stand-alone system designed primarily for working with self-contained data sets. Affordable and relatively easy to use, Desktop is an effective geographic information tool for small agencies, offices and individuals working with demographic and trend analyses, growth projections, surveys, public-opinion polling and the like. Users can do thematic mapping with a variety of colors, patterns and associated bar and pie charts; add text and symbols; and perform "what-if" analyses without changing the original data source. They can also combine multiple layers into one and create buffers around points, lines and polygons for proximity analysis.

Desktop also supports OLE 2.0, enabling users to drag and drop maps into Windows-based spreadsheets, word-processing documents or presentations. Aerial photos, satellite images and graphics from other Windows applications can be layered over maps and printed or dropped into any other OLE-automated application. Desktop users can share files in an enterprise environment, but cannot access other databases.

The software comes with 300 MB of maps and information on countries worldwide, including U.S. demographic and statistics, business data by state, county and ZIP code. In addition, hundreds of commercial data products are available for use with Desktop, such as industry specific market data, forecasts, projections and worldwide geographic and statistical data. Commercial data products can range from $100 to a sobering $10,000.

* Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT, Windows OS/2 in 16-bit emulation mode

* Available for 16- or 32-bit applications

* 486, or better, processor

* 8 MB of RAM

* Hard disk with 12 MB of free space

* CD-ROM drive


For more information contact MapInfo Corp., One Global View, Troy, NY 12180-8399. 518/285-6000. Fax 518/285-6060. .

Caliper Corp.'s Maptitude 3.0 is a fully functional, non-topographical, desktop mapping system that can be expanded as the need for GIS capabilities grows. Well-designed dialog boxes and a concise instruction manual make Maptitude an easy system to use. With only the core program ($395) -- which includes a massive data library on two CDs -- users can create, edit and customize maps; create layers; integrate maps with charts and statistics; do network analyses and thematic mapping using color codes, pins, dots and scaled symbols. Maptitude also lets users import map data from DXF files; geographic data from TIGER/Line files; and insert scanned images (e.g., satellite images, real estate and aerial photos) into maps. The same maps may be copied to other applications using the Windows clipboard or by saving maps as bitmap files.

A built-in network server installation supports all ODBC-compliant sources such as Access, DB/2, Informix, Ingres, Oracle, Sybase and others. Once installed on a network file server, Maptitude can be run from any PC connected to the enterprise. However, the drivers required to access the various databases and spreadsheets must be acquired from other software packages or from third-party developers. Another option is a GPS interface that enables Maptitude to display movement in realtime. To take advantage of this feature, users need the appropriate GPS hardware.

Maptitude is an effective tool for analyzing business locations, service routes, doing demographic analyses, or making real-estate presentations -- especially for non-GIS types. The program, on five diskettes, comes with an instruction manual and an extensive data library on two CDs. The library covers every street in the U.S.; all state, county, and ZIP-code
boundary files, census tracts and 700 variables of demographic information.

* 486/65 or better

* 12 MB of RAM, 16 MB disk space to install

* 3.5 inch drive

* CD ROM drive

* Microsoft Windows 3.1x

* Technical support available at no additional cost

* BBS: 617/527-5116

* E-mail:

* Phone: 617/527-8617


For more information, contact Caliper Corp., 1172 Beacon St., Newton, MA 02161. 617/527-4700. Fax 617/527-5113. .

Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows 95
Lotus plans to unveil a 32-bit version of 1-2-3 on CD ROM in the second half of this year. The mapping feature in the new version is built-in, providing a high degree of integration, improved speed and overall performance. In the previous version, mapping was an OLE server accessed separately.

Several other changes have been made to improve mapping performance. Users can now customize map sizes by dragging the mouse pointer on an edge; aspect ratios and spatial relationships remain unchanged. The Extras Directory that comes with the program has been expanded to include a larger set of maps of Europe and South America. The complimentary MapData Subdirectory contains extensive data on business, demographics and income for many countries, provinces, states and cities worldwide. Users will also be able to download additional mapping content from the Lotus Web page, or the Lotus Technical Support Web page (locations still being determined).

(System requirements, support, cost, and update cost are all to be announced.)

For more information, contact Lotus Development Corp., 55 Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge, MA 02142. 800/343-5414. 617/577-8500. .

gdsViewer Release II
In September, Graphic Data Systems Corp. (GDS) will introduce gdsViewer Version 2.0. This is a view-only tool for looking at data stored in extended relational database technology. It enables users to view, query and display information in relational databases that have ODBC (open database connectivity) drivers or interfaces, such as Microsoft Access, Informix, Ingres, Oracle, Sybase and others. The gdsViewer runs on Windows 3.1, Windows 95 or Windows NT platforms, and on laptops as well as desktops. It can also be integrated into other customized application software using OLE automation.

With the screen-based object identification feature, users need only place a mouse pointer on a particular object to access its related information. Viewing capabilities include rotating, panning, associating and opening multiple views of objects in real-world, longitude/latitude coordinates. Although the program requires little or no training, users must know where the database resides.

The gdsViewer has practical application for users who need to view files in enterprisewide databases that are stored in an RDBMS (relational database management system) environment, but do not need a complete GIS. A utilities management supervisor, for example, could look at property easements to locate buried power cables or gas lines, before sending out a field maintenance crew. A field engineer using a laptop could make redline modifications to GIS information on site. With the Windows clipboard, users can also cut and paste the accessed data into other documents for presentations and reports.

* MS-DOS 5.0 or better, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT

* 386 PC (Pentium recommended)

* 4 MB RAM (8 MB recommended)

* 1 MB installation space, 6 MB for full installation

* Floppy drive (program comes on two 3.5 inch floppies)

* Network capability

(Support and update cost
to be announced)


For more information, contact Graphic Data Systems Corp., 6200 South Syracuse Way, Suite 250, Englewood, CO 80111. 303/741-8484. Fax 303/741-8456.