Implications of Arc2Earth Cloud Services

Brian Flood has blogged about his latest project, Arc2Earth Cloud Services. A2ECS (what is one more acronym among friends?) is yet another service that will be competing for our GIS dollar. We’ve seen the WeoGeo/Safe announcement, ESRI is thinking about hosted services and now Brian brings his cutting edge A2E services forward. Competition will only drive costs down and Brian Timony’s hope that companies will compete for his work is probably upon us. We can assume what ESRI’s hosted services will look like given our history with their products, the WeoGeo/Safe details are still forthcoming, but Brian Flood gets into detail about what his product is offering and how.

A2ECS will provide an online space to allow users host their maps and layers online and provide RESTful access for queries, editing and spatial analysis. Nothing very complicated in that, nice simple URLs to work with. I also think using AtomPub to synchronize data back and forth is very proactive. Despite what some would have to believe, FTP access is just a complete PITA and I’m happy to see APP front and center. Once others start offering such feeds you’ll be able to better leverage the promise of GeoWeb (as opposed to W*S and FTP access).

As for the A2ECS processing Brian states that he “will provide the 20% of functionality that is used 80% of the time.”? The worry I have had for many years is when companies promise to duplicate ArcInfo or similar products online. If I have a need for complex analytical processing, I’ll probably already have access to that tool, but if I want just answer questions spatially A2ECS is probably the better tool.

Now Brian isn’t close to releasing this tool so the the details about how this will actually work are still left open. Eventually a marketplace will develop that will allow users to take data, pay for it (if needed), process it and then resell it (if needed) and making sure everyone in the chain gets “their cut”. A perfect example of this is our buddy Mr Minton and his EVS-Islands. He wanted to sell a product he created using the DigitalGlobe imagery, but DigitalGlobe was unable to honor his request. The idea that he could use worldwide imagery and create a derivative product AND sell it AS WELL AS allowing for the image provider to be paid for the use of their product is one that needs to be addressed now. I suppose that is what WeoGeo is trying to accomplish, but companies need to offer up their data so that people can take the data and process it and then sell it making sure everyone makes money on the deal. We are just beginning to see the start of something here.


The ESRI 2008 UC Q&A

ESRI has posted the results from the 2008 ESRI Q&A and most of it isn’t news, but a couple things caught my eye…

Q: When will ESRI allow licenses to be checked out of the central license manager??
ArcGIS 9.4 will support the ability to check out licenses and borrow licenses from a central license manager and for use in the field.

Q: Are you considering eliminating the dongle as a license protection mechanism?
Yes. In one of the service packs (post 9.3), ESRI will support the ability to use a license manager without a dongle on Windows and Linux.


Q:When will the metadata editor in ArcCatalog be improved?
We will be overhauling the metadata editor as part of our metadata creation, management, and data sharing improvements in ArcGIS 9.4.

I’d say this is very welcomed. The metadata editor hasn’t improved since 8.x was released and if we are to expect people to edit metadata, it should be made easier.

COLLADA Support.?At 9.3, ESRI has added support for the COLLADA standard.

Improved Performance. There are significant enhancements in display speed in ArcScene, ArcGlobe, and ArcGIS Explorer.

COLLADA support is wonderful, but ArcScene and ArcGlobe are still dogs. I’m not sure I’m too hopeful that this improved performance will actually translate into anything. If we are to integrate with BIM and 3D models of cities, both programs really need to be totally redone. Neither one has kept up with the times.

Portal Toolkit’ At 9.3, ESRI is releasing its newest version of the geospatial portal toolkit built on ArcGIS Server.

Say goodbye to ArcIMS for the Portal Toolkit. I’m interested to see if the new version is actually any good, the old was was very complex and cluttered. If ESRI could design user interfaces as nice as their presentation graphics, this thing would probably be very impressive.

Search?– At 9.4, ESRI is launching an ambitious effort to have search capabilities deeply integrated into all elements of ArcGIS. This will allow users to automatically create and discover various GIS resources using simple search tools. Users will have search tools integrated in their desktop that search local files, workgroup servers, enterprise servers and the open Web.

The ability to discover datasets on the Internet and on your local servers is critical. It makes me cringe when I see someone type “*.shp” into their Windows search tool to try and find a file. If done well, this will be a valuable tool.

Q: Is ESRI going to provide a hosting environment for ArcGIS Servers?
ESRI is currently researching this and is already hosting the data and Web services for a number of our users in both federal and state government.

Interesting, I wonder what the price points will be. Could make a ton of sense to buy EDN and then pay ESRI to host your application.

Q: Are shapefiles going away?
No, ESRI will continue to support shapefiles for the foreseeable future.

So begins the transition away from the shapefile to the file geodatabase. Actually until ESRI opens the file geodatabase format up to everyone (they nicely mention that they opened shapefiles up later in the Q&A page), it probably will not gain much more traction than the personal geodatabase did.

Q: Will ESRI continue to support Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) in the future??
Yes, ESRI is committed to continuing support for Microsoft VBA with the ArcGIS Desktop applications and has updated to VBA version 6.5 at the ArcGIS 9.3 release. However we strongly suggest developers use Visual Studio 2005 / 2008 for customizing and extending ArcGIS Desktop.

This is the number one question people asked me after I got back from the DevSummit. The writing is on the wall guys, time to move on. And VB6 folks, the end is here. 9.3 is the last release that supports VB6.

Q: What is the current level of support for OGC standards?
At 9.3, we have extensive support of KML, WMS, WCS, CSW, and WFS. By including support for style layer descriptors, filter encoding, and transactions support for WFS, we believe our support for these Web service standards are comprehensive and ready for use in real projects. Our support for GML includes both out-of-the-box simple features GML support and extended GML support (different application schemas like OS MasterMap, Top10NL, CityGML) using the ArcGIS Data Interoperability extension, which is based on Safe Software’s spatial ETL (extract, transform and load) platform. We have partnered closely with Safe Software, the global leader in spatial ETL technology solutions, which allows our users to stay current with evolving GML standards.

At 9.3 with WFS Transactions, the geodatabase is now accessible for simple features based transactions from any client that communicates using the WFS-T protocol. Support for emerging OGC specifications such as Web Processing Services (WPS) and for Sensor Web Enablement (SWE), are currently being studied for implementation in our future releases.

Good news for those who want to take part in the GeoWeb. Lots of standards support means users will be able to leverage your data. No sense locking them into that ArcIMS HTML Viewer when they can use W_S. Plus Sean those who don’t like W_S services can always use that wonderful RESTful API as well.

Q: Is ESRI going to offer a Certification Program?
ESRI is using your feedback to determine the need and potential structure of a certification program. More information will be available in 2009.

Looks like they are seriously looking at a certification program. Would you take it any more seriously than a MCSE?

Knowledge Base, wikified:
For many years, our online Knowledge Base?has been a great way for us to push the latest technical documentation between releases.?Later this year, we expect to complete the loading of our entire Knowledge Base document database into a wiki, so the community can participate, sharing with other users what they know and what they have learned.

Finally, we’ve all been asking for this and it appears it is on its way. Wikis are so good at collaboration and pulling some of that?knowledge?that is stuck in the ESRI forums and put it on a Wiki will be a huge benefit to all.


Import/Export Google SketchUp to trueSpace

I blogged about my concern that Microsoft wasn’t supporting SketchUp files in trueSpace last week and I said I’d report back on what I learned.

As long as you have Google SketchUp Pro, the process is really easy. I opened a model in Google SketchUp Pro and exported as a 3ds Max file. But that was the least of my worries. First off, don’t be fooled by Microsoft owning trueSpace though. This product obviously has had zero input from the Microsoft team. The install program wants to install the thing at “C:trueSpace76”, not putting it in the logical Program Folders place. Second, how many file menus does a program need? Trying to just find a place to import the 3D Studio Max file was difficult. Eventually I realized I wanted the other File menu (the left file menu, not the right file menu).


Once that was figured out and I was able to import the scene, the model came in perfectly. As far as I can tell it looks as good as it does in SketchUp Pro. That said, quickly I realized that trueSpace is not a simple program to work with. The reasons I choose SketchUp is that it is easy to get started with, easy to use and usually logical in how it handles operations. I never felt that way with trueSpace. I’m sure someone who is more experience with programs such as 3ds Max, Lightwave and others would feel more at home, but for someone who wants to quickly generate 3D models, I just don’t see trueSpace as being my choice. I suppose the workflow would be generate model in SketchUp, export to some intermediate file format and then import into trueSpace for placement in Virtual Earth.

If the user interface was at least somewhat usable, I might want to explore trueSpace more, but I didn’t even want to open the program back up to take another screenshot for fear of having to try and figure out which File Menu allows me to exit.

Here is the original model in Sketchup:


Model imported into trueSpace:


Now I suppose I should be fair, trueSpace does look like those who are really into 3D modeling will jump on its featureset. I do understand that Microsoft has been telling people that the two programs don’t “compete” against each other and I do see that is the case with my short visit to trueSpace. But for a casual modeler, this is just way too much hammer for my little nails.


The mundane becomes interesting if the context is changed

Tim Sinnott’s video of the Radiohead LIDAR was interesting to me for two reasons. First off it was nice to see LIDAR being used in what I suppose is mainstream media and the second is the thought that Thom Yorke would stand there and let a laser hit their face for what must have been hours. Well it looks like Tim O’Brien from O’Reilly apparently noticed this and asked Tim for an interview to talk about the process. The result is a nice little discussion about how we as GIS professionals approach our work (it is even cute how O’Brien calls ArcScene “Art Scene”) and something as mundane as importing LIDAR into ArcMap/ArcScene becomes interesting to those who know nothing about GIS.


Using Microsoft Virtual Earth with ArcGIS

So what does it actually mean? Adding Virtual Earth tiles to ArcGIS Desktop/Explorer? First off, this isn’t a free service. The ArcGIS Online Premium Service: Virtual Earth Maps Collection will cost you. How much? Not a clue. I’m sure it will be at a price point that will make some jaws drop and others will remark how cheap it really is. See the bottom of the post for pricing. One thing to keep in mind as well, “You must use ArcGIS 9.3 to be able to connect to ArcGIS Online Premium Services”. This means that if you are on 9.2, you’ll need to upgrade to enjoy the Virtual Earth maps and aerial images.

What about ArcGIS Explorer? It too can take advantage of the Virtual Earth service. But it will also require a subscription to the premium maps. If you want free access to Microsoft’s imagery in a 3D globe, you’ll have to use the 3D control in the browser (or NASA World Wind assuming that thing still works).

Now what about Server? This agreement only covers Desktop and Explorer. Thus you’ll only need to continue using it the way you already are. No big changes here. What about existing Microsoft licenses? That would appear to not cover this agreement, you’ll have to re-license data from ESRI for ArcGIS Desktop and Explorer.

ESRI operators are standing by to take that order for Virtual Earth data

Call up your ESRI rep and order that Virtual Earth data

Update: Jithen?says that the cost will be $200/user a year.


Microsoft Virtual Earth to Be Offered With ESRI’s ArcGIS Online Services

I’m normally not a big blogger of press releases, but I know the crowd that reads this blog will be very interested. I’ll follow up more later today with some thoughts about what this might mean for all of us.

Microsoft Virtual Earth to Be Offered With ESRI’s ArcGIS Online Services


Mapbuilder hits end of life

The time has come for Mapbuilder to retire. Look for OpenLayers to benefit greatly with more focus on it. Should be really interesting moving forward.


Microsoft Releases Virtual Earth ASP.NET Control CTP

It looks like the Virtual Earth ASP.NET control has finally been released. Now no longer .NET developers have to worry about their JavaScript and can focus on pure .NET. Combined with other .NET technology we could see some very immersive Virtual Earth solutions integrated into existing .NET code.

The .NET crowd has been clamoring for a pure .NET Virtual Earth solution

The .NET crowd has been clamoring for a pure .NET Virtual Earth solution


The GeoWeb 2008

First off, I had an absolute blast. The city, the venue and the people have all been just wonderful to experience. Right now especially it is very interesting because the GeoWeb is finally being implemented in larger scales and we are beginning to see the results of those who work hard at trying to realize the promise of what the GeoWeb is. I think Ron Lake puts it best when he says the GeoWeb is the Internet, not some of little corner of it. If we think that, for the most part, the Internet can be used by anyone, anywhere, on any platform device. Simply put I can collaborate while sitting next to my pool in Tempe, AZ on my iPhone with colleagues using Linux workstations in Abu Dhabi sitting in high rise office buildings. The internet doesn’t care that I have a iPhone any more than it does that they have Firefox on Linux. The same is the case for the GeoWeb, my use of ESRI Servers should not limit someone using FOSS to access and use those services.

Now of course in practice it rarely works out that way. Most ESRI Server implementations doesn’t enable OGC standards even though ESRI has worked really hard at implementing them. And even FOSS servers don’t necessarily publish OGC formats that the GeoWeb wants to use. The technical limitations of the GeoWeb have been removed and now the problem is cultural. We need to start thinking about how these systems are going to come together and how we’ll be able to collaborate without having to all be on the same platform or language. People always use ESRI as an example of a company that is limiting the GeoWeb by not supporting OGC very well and they’ve probably earned that reputation. But to be fair, there are plenty of FOSS users who want to limit their products or services to only other FOSS systems. While ESRI’s might have been technical in nature (though I can see how people might have taken their stance as cultural), the limit of not allowing your products and services to be used by all because of some cultural or personal feelings about the spirit of Microsoft, Apple, ESRI, Oracle, etc is just as bad. Those who want to take part in this new open environment will grow quickly and leave those who put up artificial impediments to their participation will be left behind.

So what does this mean for those who want to see how they can take part in the GeoWeb. Well first off, make sure you are implementing solutions that aren’t closed. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use things such as Oracle, .NET or ESRI. Make sure those solutions offer up information and data in formats that people can use and build upon what you’ve done. I see great potential for government agencies that allow their data and information to be part of everything from mashups created by some neighborhood group to global companies who want to see new marketplaces and areas for expansion. This should be done through services, not FTP sites or zipped up shapefiles. I can’t be sure my applications are using the latest data if I have to manually browse an FTP site and somehow reconcile my data with yours. A simple service where I can subscribe to information is much simpler for all. Second, end users of the data should begin to recognize that their output shouldn’t be only paper map or even a PDF. KML, GML, GeoRSS and many of the other standards work very well when accompanying a paper or PDF map.

Making your data discoverable is also very important. That I would spend time making my data easily usable and not take the time to make it discoverable hurts my implementation. Making sure Google and Microsoft (assuming Live Search ever gets fixed) are crawling your information is critical to its acceptance. We will begin seeing spatial results start showing up in Google very soon and when that happens, those services will become extremely popular. If I’m the County of Maricopa, I don’t want my data hidden behind some old MapGuide Active X control, but as discoverable services that people can subscribe to and use. Think of it simply, if your data isn’t discoverable via Google search, someone else’s will and the parcel information that shows up will not be under your control. You can choose to ignore spatial search, but someone else is sure to step into your space and offer such services.

The time spend with everyone in Vancouver was well spent and I’ll continue to post what I saw an learned over this next week. Seeing real world implementation that take advantage of what the GeoWeb offers and seeing how successful those are, really validates the vision. It is still early enough in the process to be on the ground floor and there are still huge hurdles as far as data standards and security that need to be addressed so getting involved now can only help everyone. The idea that 10 people can use 10 different software packages and collaborate on geospatial products is very powerful. And of course the added benefit is that you can choose the software platform that best meets your needs and not worry about matching your clients or consumers platforms. That saves everyone time and money, just like the Internet itself has done.

You don’t want to be this guy, do you?

You dont want to be this guy, do you?

Vancouver Photo Credit: jahdakine


trueSpace for Virtual Earth 3D

Chris Pendleton notes on his blog that Microsoft has released trueSpace for Virtual Earth 3D for free. I think most of us thought this would be the eventual result of Microsoft’s acquisition of Caligari so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

I’ll be honest in that I’ve never used Caligari tools, only SketchUp and at least on the surface it doesn’t appear to support the SketchUp format. Unless you purchase the Pro version of Google SketchUp (and its ability to export more format types), you can’t easily migrate your models to Virtual Earth. Such a shame that Microsoft didn’t make the migration easier.

If only Microsoft put on a little Google this morning we’d have some interoperability

If only Microsoft put on a little Google this morning wed have some interoperability