GIS and the Keyboard

I think you can usually tell when a GIS Professional learned GIS by how they use their keyboard. Those who learned either on UNIX command line programs such as ArcInfo or GDAL seem to go out of their way to type commands either through keystrokes or scripting while those who learned in the GUI era, either ArcView 3.x or ArcGIS Desktop prefer to use a mouse. Now generalizing is always dangerous but it highlights things about how GIS analysis is done.


I almost feel like Yakov Smirnoff saying “What a country!” when you realize that most of the complicated scripting commands of the 90s are completed almost perfectly by dropping a couple GIS layers on a wizard and keep clicking next. Esri should be commended for making these tools drop-dead simple to use. But it brings up the issue of does anyone under stand what is going on with these tools when they run them? Let’s take a simple example for Intersect.

Esri Intersect Tool

So simple right? You just take your input features, choose where the output feature goes and hit OK. Done. But what about those optional items below. How many people actually ever set those? Not many of course and many times you don’t need to set them but not understanding why they are options makes it dangerous that you might not perform your analysis correctly. I’ll say you don’t understand how to run a GIS command unless you understand not only what the command does but all the options.
You don’t have to learn Python to be a GIS Analyst, running Model Builder or just the tools from ArcCatalog is good enough. But if you find yourself not even seeing these options on the bottom, let alone understand what they are and why they are used, you aren’t anything more than a button pusher. And button pushers are easily replaced. The Esri Intersect Tool has many options and using it like below will only give you minimum power and understanding of how GIS works.

Esri Intersect Tool with blinders on.

In the old days of keyboards, you have to type commands out and know what each one did. In fact many commands wouldn’t run unless you put an option in. Part of it is when you type the words “fuzzy_tollerance” enough times you want to know what they heck it is. I think keyboard GIS connected users to the commands and concepts of GIS more than wizards do. Much like working with your hands connects people to woodworking, working with your keyboard connects people to GIS.

ArcGIS Pro Licensing — Enabling

So last week I was talking about how to now use ArcGIS Pro with “Classic Licensing”. Well after following the directions on Esri’s website which resulted in no new licenses we finally realized that despite what Esri says on their support page. The original suggestion was just use the ArcGIS Desktop license for Pro 1.2. What you actually need to do is find your ArcGIS Pro 1.2 license in My Esri and use that. Make sense when you think about it but the directions from Esri before was just use your ArcGIS Desktop.

The disconnect was that you get ArcGIS Pro license code with your ArcGIS Desktop license. You just need to run the licensing wizard and then point your ArcGIS Pro to that license server. Then it works without an issue.

ArcGIS Pro Licensing — The Old Way

ArcGIS Pro has always had somewhat of a non-standard way of being licensed. I’ve never really gotten into it mostly because it revolves around “provisioning” and “logging in” to ArcGIS Online. Even if I felt a real need to get it to work, it just seems like a very annoying method of licensing software. Now since technically we aren’t paying for ArcGIS Pro licenses just yet, I suppose it doesn’t really matter1. But as I do want to at least get an idea of what Pro is, how it works and what it means to GIS workflows when/if it replaces ArcGIS for Desktop, licensing matters. I’ve not been to an Esri conference in almost a year so the ins and outs of Pro licensing have been lost on me but this tidbit yesterday about ArcGIS Pro moving forward was interesting.

So there you go, I’m guessing this means when 1.2 arrives this week, I can just point it at my existing license manager and away we go. I’ll install ArcGIS Pro, be impressed with the new UI and then realize it’s a dog and buggy as sin2. But 64-bit is a big carrot so depending on how the geoprocessing works, I can see myself embracing Pro, Python 3.x and 64-bit.

From the “What’s New in ArcGIS Pro 1.2”:

Before the 1.2 release, the only licensing option available for ArcGIS Pro was through Named User licensing. This license model required authorization through your organization administrator on Portal for ArcGIS or ArcGIS Online. At 1.2, you now have two new licensing models available that don’t require you to go through a Portal for ArcGIS or an ArcGIS Online organization: Single Use and Concurrent licensing. With a Single Use license, ArcGIS Pro points to a file for authorization. The file is stored on the same machine that runs ArcGIS Pro. With Concurrent licensing, a given number of licenses are hosted on a License Manager (the ArcGIS License Server Administrator). ArcGIS Pro is then configured to allow organization members to check out an available license from the pool of licences hosted on the License Manager.

While I did spend a lot of time photoshopping the splash screen above, here is the ArcGIS Pro 1.2 splash screen.

  1. Beta software has always been sort of a different beast when it comes to licensing. 

  2. I’m thinking it will be ArcGIS Desktop 8.0.1 all over again. 

Extensions for ArcGIS for Server

One of the more confusing things for new ArcGIS users is that they probably need either Spatial Analyst or 3D Analyst to do their work. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that every ArcGIS for Desktop license will have at some point either one of those extensions. As I’m getting back into Server though I’m starting to take a look at those extensions as well. Specifically the GeoEvent Extension has caught my eye. Conversations on Twitter basically expose that it either works or it doesn’t and it’s either great or maddening. Sounds like typical Esri software.

The thing about Server extensions though is they mostly have a Windows requirement to run (thankfully GeoEvent doesn’t). As I’ve jumped back into ArcGIS for Server I’ve been impressed with it’s maturity but alas it’s still a windows only product which limits its use in hosted environments. I’m not oblivious to the reasons why these things go Windows only but it is a shame that Workflow and Data Reviewer require windows. Hopefully as Esri transitions into a more software agnostic development environment, they’ll start fixing these Windows only requirements.

At least GeoEvent Extension runs on Linux, wish me luck with that….

Using the Esri ArcGIS Server Cloud Builder

I’ve been playing with ArcGIS for Server 10.3.1 at Matrix and we’re all about running things with hosted services.  So rather than spec out some hardware and install ArcGIS for Server on local legacy machines, we’re doing it all in the cloud.  Because I’m new here there wasn’t any legacy AWS use so I was able to pick Azure for deployment.  My logic:

  • While I’m experienced with AWS, Azure is mostly an unknown world to me.  Given we’re running Windows servers with SQL Server, why not go native.
  • I really want to give SQL Azure a spin.
  • The portal for Azure is much nicer than AWS.  They have those stupid panels in places1 but mostly it makes logical sense.
  • Esri has Cloud Builder to simplify installation which I though would be great for starting up prototypes quickly.

So logical, no?  Well late yesterday this tweet went out by me.

I was stuck here:

You can literally hear the sad trombone sound.  Now Sam Libby was helping troubleshoot but things were still a bit weird.  Basically as you can see in the error above, I needed to accept an EULA.  Now of course I went into the the Azure Marketplace and followed the instructions to allow the Esri VM to be deployed programmatically which is what Cloud Builder requires.  But each time it errored out the same way.

Sam offered this:

Basically he hit upon it.  Microsoft did something with the marketplace and for whatever reason the Cloud Builder app won’t install an Esri ArcGIS for Server VM until you actually install it first yourself.

The workaround to get the Cloud Builder app to run is actually just create a VM using the Azure Portal then delete it.

After that, the Esri Cloud Builder app runs perfectly without trouble.

Philip Heede basically confirms everything.

So the ArcGIS for Server Cloud Builder2 works great.  While I don’t like wizards in general, it automates the processes that take time and let’s you focus on the settings for ArcGIS for Server you want to change.  I honestly haven’t installed ArcGIS for Server since it was ArcGIS Server (without the for) 9.3.1 and it was interesting to see how things have changed and how little has actually changed.

  1. Is that what they’re called? 

  2. Seriously, why no “for” in the title, consistency folks!