Reflection on the 2006 ESRI User Conference

UC2006_logo_sml.jpgOn Jack’s Presentation:

Jack Dangermond as usual did a great job. He actually admitted that ESRI makes mistakes and apologized for them. He really got into ArcGIS Server which seems to be the big push this year as well as some of the new cartographic tools in ArcGIS Desktop. ArcGIS Explorer got some play as well. The one part of Jack’s presentation that I noticed missing was ArcWeb. He mentioned it in passing, but nothing substantial about the new ArcWeb Explorer. In fact I can’t recall any demonstrations of ArcWeb Explorer on Monday at all. As I said, ArcGIS Server was really the focus, but I thought Nick Frunzi did a wonderful job explaining the new customer service options. Besides ArcWeb, the one missing feature was that there was no new “amazing demo”. From the wearable computer a couple years ago, to the touch table demonstrations from the past 2 years I think these were actually pretty cool. I guess there really wasn’t anything new this year besides what ESRI was showing.

###On the Software Demos:

This started out with the new performance and usability of ArcGIS Desktop at 9.2. There is a huge list here of things new in 9.2, but most of those little things that you say, “I wish ArcGIS Desktop could do this” are now taken care of. I can attest that the 9.2 beta pre-release of Desktop is running wonderful. Following on with Jack’s talk, ArcGIS Server was really pushed. From the new .NET and Java ADFs, ArcIMS getting pushed to the background (but still seeing big improvements at 9.2), the new quick and easy publish maps to ArcGIS Explorer, editing geodatabases from right inside your web browser, and replicating SDE instances across the Internet; ArcGIS Server really has seen a huge improvement in functionality. Of course demonstrations are one thing so we’ll get to see how this all works out in the wild very soon. At 9.2, ArcGIS Server seems to do much that most ESRI shops have been asking for so I assume we’ll see quick adoption.

###On the floor:

The event floor keeps getting bigger and bigger, but there wasn’t anything really amazing that caught me eye. Of course there was a huge crowd in front of the SketchUp booth most of the conference, but the must see touch tables didn’t get the same play (there there was at least one more company showing them this year). Sun Microsystems was back again this year and Adobe had a big booth as well. I heard one person mention that most of this technology is getting more mainstream and they weren’t as amazed at what they say anymore, maybe that is my problem too.

ESRI had refocused their islands (no more Doctor’s Office) and the Geodatabase really took up most of their space. I though the whole area was laid out in a way that make it feel very crowded, but that might have to do also with the 14,000 people that were there. I kinda liked the old way better. I was glad to see the ArcWeb team have a “Creating Mashups” talk that seemed to be very crowded. Maybe next year that will be a technical workshop huh? ArcGIS Explorer was in the center of it all probably because it seems to be the key to most of what ESRI is planning to do on the server side. ArcGIS Server was pretty crowded and the ArcIMS section seemed to be kinda tucked away off to the side (another message to us ArcIMS users I guess). I was very happy to see an island devoted to licensing as this gets confusing for most of us when ESRI revamps their product line.

###On the Technical Workshops:

These didn’t seem as crowded this year as years past. Maybe they just got lucky with scheduling (or I got lucky). There was one are I knew would be very crowded and I was right about it was Python Scripting and ArcGIS. Every session I walked by was standing room only and people standing out the door. These sessions, just like last year, need to be in a much larger room.

###On the paper presentations:

Boy I can pick these, the two I tried to go to were canceled. How disappointing.

###After hours:

I had a blast going to the Open Source GIS San Diego Gathering at SDSU (I always enjoy hanging out with people smarter than I am), the .NET SIG was pretty good, but seemed very rushed (though I did get a free .NET T-Shirt and all Brian Flood got was an XBox 360) and ending with the geoblogger meetup was great (though I did stay out later than the trolley’s ran so it was a little hard getting back to my brother’s condo.

###The bottom line?

OK, so what were the big things to take note from the user conference? Well ArcGIS Desktop is going to be great at 9.2. ESRI is going to have a hard time coming up with things to add at 9.3 (but then again is that all bad?). ArcGIS Server is finally the all in one server product ESRI and most of their user base has been wanting. Finally we can have quick and easy deployments of maps, models and SDE replication. Plus the new ADFs are the perfect way to migrate people from ArcIMS to ArcGIS Server (though as I said ArcIMS isn’t going anywhere). ArcGIS Explorer really has come together. When the next beta gets released to the testers, I think we’ll finally have the application we have been looking for. AGX has really come a long way since the Dev Summit and it will fit in very nice with most ESRI users workflows (especially those in the U.S. who will have great aerial photography to work with). ESRI Developer Network folks will be getting a new binder at 9.2 with DVDs instead of CDs. Remember you can pay an extra $500 and get an ArcView license (while this will help in creating maps to publish with AGS, it won’t help loading data into SDE. Guess you just have to keep using shape2sde for another year.

No, there wasn’t anything that just wowed me, but that is OK. 9.2 is looking good and that is what all those people paying maintenance are excited about. Keep an eye out for October as this looks like when 9.2 will go final (as well as ArcGIS Explorer).

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