In the past month I’ve had 4 people tell me that they are probably not going to be using ESRI Server (ArcGIS Server, ArcIMS, ArcSDE) on their projects unless their clients specifically demand it. I’m not talking about 4 people off the street here, but ESRI MVP types. When asked why they felt this way, they all said it was because they have invested so much in their web clients that they no longer needed to be tied to ESRI Server products and their added cost. One also said that there was nothing in the new ArcGIS Server 9.2 that they would be using anyway so it made no more sense to pay maintenance. Interesting that this is happening now, after ESRI is finally delivering clients that developers can use (ArcGIS Explorer, Web ADF). When I mentioned the Web ADF to one of these folks, she just laughed and said they already put thousands of dollars into their own web client and they didn’t want to walk away from it. I guess if the Web ADF had come out at lets say 9.1, many people might be already locked into the ESRI server stack. But the delay has caused people to go out on their own and in turn they have looked at open source solutions.
The other issue is that the added functionality of ArcGIS Server doesn’t give them any value. Some of the functions of AGS are impressive, but in the real world they have almost no applicability. As one person said to me, “ArcIMS really hasn’t changed in the past 3 years, so why should I pay maintenance on such a product? I’m sure the new wizard based map creation back end will be helpful to some, but it doesn’t add anything to my development work flows.” Another said that AGS is impressive, but speed makes it very difficult to use. “We looked at a combination of ArcGIS Server and ArcIMS to try and get a handle on speed issues, but the cost was so great that we just abandoned that route and went with Mapserver. We had some cool stuff going on but in the end we couldn’t justify the cost.”
So implementors of server GIS products are beginning to look elsewhere because of perceived value and speed right at the time ESRI is releasing their most impressive server update in years. As one business partner told me, “Desktop is so impressive that I can’t ever see using something else, but in the server marketplace, the competition might have surpassed ESRI.” Simplicity, speed and freedom seem to be at the forefront of web GIS and ESRI might be losing out on that front. We’ll have to see what ArcGIS 9.2 does to that, but it would appear that release might be 1 year too late.