Bad Esri Products are Good

I was having drinks the other day with an ex-Esri employee and we were talking about what Esri products I liked to work with. The short list is right below:

  1. ArcView 3.x
  2. MapObjects
  3. ArcIMS

Arc/INFO might be on that list but let’s cap it at three. None of them were products that Esri wanted to keep around. All of them were thrust in the marketplace and then poorly supported. I get the idea that Esri wanted everything on ArcGIS platform (Server being a joke for so many years is proof of this) but being a developer on those platforms was really hard. The transition from Avenue to VB/VBA was particularly brutal. There were books written to help with this transition, but none by Esri.

My trajectory was shaped by these products above being abandoned by Esri. I went another direction because of being burnt by proprietary products that when abandoned cause huge problems. I think you have two choices, either double down or hit the eject button. I’m so glad I ejected…

Jack Answers Your Questions — 2016 Edition

Ever since GIS was created in a dark damp room in Canada, Jack has answered your questions. In the past this was a secret Q&A that only registered Esri users going to the UC could see but for the past 10 years or so Esri has posted it online. I’ve read through most of it and I think the part that has me most excited is the Python Web API. Just think about that for a bit, some amazing opportunities. 10.5 is on it’s way. We should take bets to see how far the 10.x releases get before they go into maintenance mode. I’m going with 10.8.

That said, the problem with the list is it’s so damn hard to read so as a service I’m pulling out what I view as the important questions and what Jack answered.

Q1: What is the meaning of this year’s User Conference Theme: GIS — Enabling a Smarter World?

A1: GIS is so smart that they’ve named whole industries after it. Smart Cities, Smart Homes, Smart Cars and Smart & Final. You can put Smart in front of anything and you sound smart. So in the spirit of Smart being smarter, we are using the power word, “Enabling” with Smart + World. You’d better believe we’ll also be mentioning Smart Maps later.

Q2: How does the Internet of Things (IoT) work and how does it connect and integrate with GIS?

A2: IoT is the new hotness. We looked at the Gartner Hype Cycle and saw that much of our previous GIS integration buzz words were dropping off. IoT should be on the Hype Cycle for years to come so it’s safe. Basically we’ll show you how to connect to things that you don’t care about with APIs that are difficult to use. It will be a fun time. Your Washing Machine is so in need of being a dot on a map.

Q3: What is the Esri Map Book and how should I use it?

A3: The Map Book is something we’ve given out every year for just about forever. You put the book in your suitcase where it gets bent during transport back to your GIS cube. Then you stick it on your shelf where it sits next to all your other Map Books as a badge of honor to show your peers that you collect Esri Map Books.

Q4: Is ArcGIS too complicated for a small nonprofit to understand and use?

A4: Yes of course. It’s too complicated for GIS users to understand and use. That is the whole point. If it was easy, then you wouldn’t feel like you’re getting value out of it. Super Mario Bros. was hard to beat, but you kept at it. Same with ArcGIS. Get that perfect score folks! This isn’t consumer software, it’s scientific.

Q5: What is a GIS Hub?

Q5: Our latest attempt to try and find ways to convince you to use ArcGIS Online. Rather than refine the message, we’re of the mindset to create new products and terms that confuse users. We call it the GIS Industrial Complex. GIS Hubs are collections of data on the web that don’t get updated very often.

Q6: How is Esri doing?

A6: Doing great thanks!

Q7: What is the big idea with Web GIS?

A7: What is the big idea with all these stupid questions?

Q8: What does the future hold for GIS?

A8: Lots of Microsoft Excel, DBF management and data silos.

Q9: What are some of the important innovations for ArcGIS 10.5?

A9: First, we’ll drop some big data terms on you. Second, we’ll create something called Insights which sounds cool because it’s “intuitive enterprise charting”. Third, we are reminding you we have a product called CityEngine. Fourth, we’ll introduce more wizard based tools that require no understanding of why you’re clicking next. Fifth, we have another Python library because that’s what you all want.

Q10: Can you explain what a Web GIS is?

A10: Um, GIS on the Web stupid.

Q11: What is ArcGIS Open Data?

A11: Something the boys in the lab cooked up. Allows both Esri and our business partners to check a box on responses to RFPs. You’re welcome…

Q12: What is the best way to give feedback to Esri about software issues?

A12: Complain on Twitter.

Q13: What is smart mapping?

A13: I swear to god that nobody asked this question.

Q14: Why does Esri have two desktop solutions?

A14: Because through feedback you let us know you liked it when we had ArcView 3.2a and ArcGIS Desktop 8.0.1 at the same time. We know you want something new but new sucks because it’s so different. So we’ll have two paths you’ll have to navigate. Keeps you busy doesn’t it? Think back to your old APRs and how much fun you had migrating them to MXDs. We have wizards that will simplify this but you still know it will be a nightmare. So enjoy ArcGIS for Desktop, we’re keeping it around for a long time.

Q15: Will ArcMap be deprecated anytime soon?

A15: Nope, it will be around for a long time, you’re still using ArcView 3.x on that WinXP computer aren’t you? Make a VM with Widows 10 and ArcGIS for Desktop 10.5 stand alone. You’ll be safe for a long time.

Q16: What are the new capabilities coming with the summer release, ArcGIS Pro 1.3?

A16: We’re getting close to having 15% of the functionality of ArcGIS Desktop. It takes time to migrate the kitchen sink.

Q17: How would you describe ArcGIS for Server today?

A17: Expensive

Q18: What is ArcGIS Online?

Q18: We’re still trying to figure that out. The plan is to eventually move everyone to ArcGIS Online named users for licensing. Be ready and embrace your new GIS Hub.

3D Underground

There are plenty of 3D globes for desktop and for web that support above ground objects (mostly buildings) on the globe but there are few that support features underground (such as wells). The only one that really has good support is Esri’s CityEngine. You can render scenes such as this in the browser.

Now the problem is that this all requires CityEngine which is neither inexpensive nor easy to use. I’ve got a great database of wells with GeoJSON attributes that I’d love to map on a 3D browser view but most of the efforts so far have been put into 2.5D solutions. Most of my current project work is 3D but underground which means that I can’t view on Google Earth or other web solutions.

I get all excite to map wells and then disaster strikes.

Washington Crossing the Esri

Every year or so it seems like Esri gets written up in Forbes. Last week the following came out:

…long before Google was born–even before its founders were born–it was Dangermond who essentially invented the digital map. Esri , the company he founded with his wife, Laura, in 1969, has toiled in relative obscurity to become one of the more improbable powerhouses in tech, having survived wrenching shifts in computing that destroyed scores of its fellow tech pioneers.

Now before you think it is a puff piece like last years, think again. I was surprised in the honest assessment of Esri, Jack’s place in technology and the happiness of Esri employees. Working in the industry we do, we all know the place that Jack and Esri fit within the grow of GIS. The article focuses on Esri but I think it hits upon what everyone is doing, Esri itself, their business parters or those who avoid their software:

“There’s been an explosion of people who think of their research in geospatial terms,” says Julie Sweetkind-Singer, Stanford’s assistant director of Geospatial, Cartographic and Scientific Data & Services.

There has been, it might make “Jack bullish” but it really is built upon the doers of GIS. Visionaries may point the ship in the right direction but those on the ground have turned GIS from a specialized-niche profession into something that is part of almost every workflow imaginable. Read the article, it think it is worth your time.

10 Years Ago on Spatially Adjusted – “Stop Putting Commercial Software in ESRI ArcScripts”

10 years ago this week Katrina had rolled in and there were lots of posts on Spatially Adjusted about Digital Globe and Google Maps imagery being updated for the flooding.  But the post that caught my attention was this one on ArcScripts:

Can someone at ESRI please clean up the ArcScripts site? Plain as day on the ESRI ArcScripts upload page it says “Not for samples or demos of products sold at Web sites”. There are way too many products that are commercial in there and this latest one takes the cake. 15 days and then you have to buy it, what a joke. If you have to advertise, do it by buying ad space, not polluting the ArcScripts gallery.  Geospatial Enterprises is off my list of companies I’ll deal with. XTools Pro 3.0 is also a commercial product that tries to get around by offering some free tools, but it too is just a demo. Someone over at ESRI needs to get serious about cleaning this junk up and off the ArcScripts.

I mean how shady was XTools Pro anyway?  The original XTools on ArcView 3.x was open, free and a great tool.  Then some guys basically rebranded it for ArcGIS Desktop and started charging money for it.  Oh well, the madness of ArcScripts is over as well as the need for tools like XTools is over.  Still funny to think this was how we shared scripts and applications back then.  No Github or other platforms to help.  Life was so hard back then and we didn’t realize it!

ESRI ArcGIS 9.1 is here

Of course UPS shows up at 5pm on the Friday before a 3 day weekend. Somehow I was able to not stay late and install ArcINFO, ArcIMS and ArcSDE 9.1 to play with. I must be getting older and wiser as this doesn’t sound a thing like me.

I’ll have to wait until Tuesday to see what happens.