The later morning session started out with one of the largest customers of ESRI software, FedEx. The integration of ESRI software into FedEx’s workflows is impressive and if you are interested in seeing some really great uses of ESRI Server software, you should pay attention. Heck if you use ArcGIS Server Java, they might want to learn a lot more given the platforms they are running ArcGIS Server on (non-Microsoft).

Jack then dropped into the ‘What’s Next’ part of the Plenary. He showed a video of Scott Morehouse talking about what he is looking at for the future of ArcGIS from a design standpoint. 9.4 is going to be a large release (Jack joked about it being release 10). Jack says it will fundamentally change how we work with ArcGIS by making us more productive.

At 9.4 you can also have 9.3.1 installed at the same time, the ability to check out licenses and take them with you. The user interface is allows dockable windows so that you can hide the TOC when you aren’t working with it. ArcCatalog is now embedded in ArcMap and can be docked as well. Attribute results are also dockable and gives you the ability to work with tables much like you’d work with them in Excel. Search is also now integrated into ArcMap. The problem is that it isn’t geoenabled so you can’t search by your map window. ESRI says they have new reporting tools, but they seem to still be based on Crystal Reports so I’m not sure what has changed other than some new templates and save/print. 9.4 now can put all the analysis tools on the toolbar (toolbar overload!) and models can run in the background (about time!). You can have your layers appear and hide depending if they appear in the map window. You can actually search the symbol libraries rather than browse them. There is a new time tab on layers that have temporal attributes. There is also a slider like Google Earth to move back and forth in time to see changes in layers over time. There is a new ‘basemap layer’ feature (special group layer) that improves redraw of features so you don’t have to wait for the background to draw. No mention of the penalty of this basemap layer on your system.

Editing tasks at 9.4 allows you to predefine features you can create with rules already defined. I know many people who are going to really like the new editing/creating features. I think finally people who have no familiarity with ArcGIS should be able to complete edits without much direction. The bottom line is editing will be much more usable and while it isn’t as sexy as RESTful API, web editing is going to be huge.

Map Automation and Generalization is one of the key features of 9.4 IMO. We had map automation at Workstation years ago and then ESRI took away AML. Python is now integrated directly into ArcMap. I say it every year, but if you are an ArcGIS Desktop user, you need to take a close look at python as your scripting language. Using a mouse to perform analysis is really a bad idea. One of the greatest things with Python integration is the ability to create map books using python and export out PDFs. The DS Mapbook example is used by way too many people for map production and of course it is really just a demo. Now with Python, we’ll have the ability to populate dynamic text to update page numbers and such. You can also publish Python scripts to ArcGIS Server so that users can leverage the Python script in your web applications. Python is totally integrated into ArcGIS 9.4 so you’ll be able to take python projects and import them into your ArcGIS projects

ArcGIS 9.4 3D support allows you to take more control over your maps. Performance seems greatly improved. You can edit in 3D (ArcScene and ArcGlobe), but it is still not integrated directly into ArcMap (you have to deal with two programs). Import of SketchUp models is much improved, click and place. You can update model changes by right clicking on the model and click update. You won’t lose all your new attribute data. You can also place video layers in ArcGlobe and drape them over the the terrain.

So that is the improvements to ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Server is next up. I’m not sure we saw anything different than we saw at the Developer Summit so it just goes to prove how important that conference is to keeping on top of the direction of ESRI software.

At 9.4 ESRI will provide an ‘open API’ to read the Geodatabase. Any client can embed the API and use it. Lawrie Jordan (who joined ESRI last year) then demonstrated imagery analysis at 9.4. There are a ton of new features to discover and add updated imagery that I’m sure will go over well. ESRI also has improved the speed at which imagery draws (you can pan around without waiting for it to appear). The Image Analysis tools are now all combined in one panel for easy manipulation.

Mobile GIS has been a part of ESRI for some time and I think we are beginning to see a shift from from Windows Mobile to the iPhone and Blackberry. The first demo though was the classic Windows Mobile demo that we’ve seen for years and saw at the ESRI Developer Summit in March. The new iPhone app looked nice and allows you to use ArcGIS Server services. You can click on the map and get attributes and it seem to integrate in with the GPS. You can add notes to the map and then share them back with via email, sms or sync back to the ArcGIS Server. The iPhone already does a better job with interaction of ArcGIS Server than Windows Mobile so the future is very bright.

This year ESRI is 40 years old. Jack says ESRI is financially secure and growing. Break for lunch and keynote later.