Just try and make me start using ArcGIS!

I ran into an interesting discussion today with some users at a client site today. It seems while the GIS manager would just love to migrate everyone to ArcGIS 9.1, he just can’t seem to get people to move off of ArcView 3.x. I did a little demo to show them how much easier it was to work with files as well as the model builder to help them perform data analysis, but it didn’t seem to sink in. I also explained how they were moving to Geodatabases and ArcSDE and how ArcView 3.x wouldn’t be able to interact with those formats. The response? Let the GIS manager convert them to shapefile for us. Lets just say that GIS manager wasn’t too thrilled about that response. Looks like I might have to do some Avenue programming for this client.

ArcView 3.x is the program that just won’t die.

Email Shapefiles or Geodatabases? Nah, give me e00!

I’ve grown to really dislike emailing datasets to people. Shapefiles have always been a pain as you either have to attach at least 3 files to an email or “zip” it up to ensure that the files are readable on the other end. The Geodatabase did better as it was one file containing one or more datasets, but alas these days emailing a Microsoft Access file is just about worthless as most email systems (and even Outlook to an extent) strip out anything with a *.mdb extension. Yea, one could always use FTP or some other web based system, but email is still the easiest and quickest way to send files.

One format that was never difficult to send (though half the time people didn’t know what to do with it) was the ESRI Export Interchange file (what we mostly now call e00). This single ASCII file was almost always accepted with email systems and could store many different dataset types. Why is it we always take a couple steps back as we move forward. I just can’t stand having to change a Geodatabase extension to _.txt or something else just to get an email system to accept it, or remind people that the need to at least include the _.shx and *.dbf with that shapefile they sent. I’d love to see a new interchange format from ESRI, or just update the existing Export Interchange format to handle the newer data types the ESRI is supporting. In retrospect, using a Microsoft Access file format probably wasn’t the best idea for many reasons, but if we had an up to date interchange format, that wouldn’t matter at all.

ESRI ArcGIS and the License Manager

Our company has grown much in GIS in the 3 years I’ve been here and in doing so we’ve eliminated every stand alone ArcGIS installation in favor of concurrent licenses. While this enables us to save money over all the stand alone ArcView and ArcEditor licenses we’d need, we’ve begun to run into the problem I’ve heard from many GIS road warriors, you can’t check a license out for work in the field.

I’m actually writing this on an airplane on my way to visit a client to talk to them about improving their GIS system and I’ll do so without a copy of ArcGIS that will run. Sure, I know I can install a copy of stand alone ArcView/ArcEditor on my laptop, but that would not be cost effective for our small company. At past ESRI User Conferences I’ve heard ESRI explain that they can’t let ArcGIS check out licenses because the license manager (FLEXlm) isn’t a secure as they’d like. When I used to work for a very large A&E years ago, we could check out AutoCAD license out of FLEXlm without any issue. The GIS portion wasn’t a big issue because we all had ArcView 2.x/3.x on our laptops which didn’t use the license manager and I didn’t mind not having ArcInfo 6/7 as most of the time on the road I wasn’t doing complex analysis.

While in the hotel room I can use our VPN network to connect to the license manager, but most of the time I’m off the network, unable to use the VPN. I’m going to try and raise this issue again with ESRI at the User Conference, but I don’t expect any movement on their part. GIS has become much more mobile since the days I used old Sun workstations and I think it is time for ESRI to start allowing us to check out ArcGIS licenses (including extensions) for use in the field. I’ve seen the demos on the User Conference stage with the Tablet PC being used by utility companies in the field, but why should we have to tie a stand alone license to every computer that leaves the office? If FLEXlm isn’t good enough to do this, then ESRI should move to another license manager as soon as possible.

Where is ArcGIS Explorer?

For years ESRI has had versions of ArcExplorer. The first versions were based upon MapObjects while the later ones have grown out of ArcIMS Author. They work pretty well for most people, but their limitations are beginning to show. I think ESRI should introduce a new ArcGIS client that would enable people who want and need to view GIS data, but not perform analysis. The current versions of ArcExplorer don’t support Personal Geodatabases, Coverages and other GIS data formats that users need to see. ArcReader does a good job of displaying the data, but the PMF documents can only be created in ArcGIS with ArcPublisher and no data can be added in ArcReader.

A simple solution would be to sell a version of ArcReader that allows the ability to read PMF/MXD as well as add data to them. Leave the ArcToolbox and ArcCatalog out of it and sell it for about $49. I don’t think this would hurt the sales of ArcView as people who need to edit or perform analysis on GIS will still need at least an ArcView license. This ArcGIS ArcExplorer (it should be called ArcView, but that is already taken) would be able to connect to ArcSDE, ArcIMS services, ArcWeb as well as read all the GIS formats that ArcView can. I’m guessing one could create such an application using ArcGIS Engine, but I’d rather just have our planners, engineers, biologists and other users of GIS have an ESRI product on their desk. The cost of ArcView is just too much to put on as many desks as we have users who want it (since most of our clients are using Geodatabases we can’t have them view the data sets with ArcExplorer).

ESRI should be putting GIS tools in front of as many people as possible and this new ArcGIS Explorer would fit the bill very well. There are just so many datasets on the internet for download and if people could access them even on the home PC with ArcGIS Explorer they would have a tool to introduce them to GIS and eventually become an ESRI customer.

Busy Month Ahead

I’ve got one heck of a month planned. I start by visiting a client that I haven’t seen in some time to try and help them get a handle on their GIS. They have been so busy during the past year that they have not had much change to make sure their GIS is as compliant as it needs to be. We’ll spend this week trying to prioritize what datasets they need either cleaned up or created and then go from there. I’ll be home a week, but then I travel to a new client to see what we can do to help them with their web based GIS. The implementation needs to be ESRI based, but we might still get to do some interesting things on the backend with Oracle Spatial. After that, I’m home for a week and then it is off to the ESRI User Conference in San Diego. I’m glad I have those weeks in between to clean up loose ends in the office and check on the progress of existing projects.

Roger Tomlinson’s Book, Thinking About GIS, Details GIS Planning for Managers


Roger Tomlinson’s Book, Thinking About GIS, Details GIS Planning for Managers

The revised and updated second edition of this book, which provides planning wisdom for implementing a GIS, is now available from ESRI Press.

If you haven’t read this book and work in the GIS industry, you should go ahead and buy it now. Heck, now it is in paperback making it an even better deal.

Tracking GIS Across the Blogosphere

Trying to find GIS information on the Internet can be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Well lucky for us we have a couple tools that enable us to see what other users are saying about topics we care about. I use my RSS aggregator to read the blogs that I feel keep me up to date the most, but what about the thousands that mention GIS?

Enter Technorati, PubSub and Feedster. These three tools allow me to use keywords or “tags” to find blog postings that match terms that I want to follow. What is ever better about them is you can subscribe to them with your RSS aggregator. I will use the keyword/tag “ESRI” to show you how each of them finds and displays blog entries.

PubSub is a little different than those two as you really need to create the keywords yourself, but I think I get better results with PubSub than Technorati or Feedster.

I’ve got PubSub feeds for ESRI, ArcGIS, PostGIS, Oracle, MapServer, Ka Map, Cartography and Geospatial. I don’t have one for GIS because you get many results for GIs (think Iraq). Any time almost anyone posts about the above terms on their blog, I get to read the post. I know many users know about these services, but if you don’t you should really check them out.

Needed Vacation

My first vacation in over two years (pretty sad when I have to count the 2003 ESRI User Conference weekend as a vacation) is about to happen. Building a GIS practice from scratch is a lot of work, but I’m glad I had an opportunity to do it, again.

Anyway I’m going to a place that has no phone lines so I won’t be able to check my email at all, what a concept! No GIS for 5 whole days.

OK, maybe not. I’ll have my new bluetooth GPS with my Dell Axim v50. I’m a geographer, what can I say?