Reflection on the 2008 ESRI Developer Summit

Dev Summit

Well I think most would agree, the 2008 DevSummit was one of the best. There was tons of new stuff to learn about, much more attendees, more ESRI staff, better layout of the conference (the Community Center was particularly good) and better session (and more of them). So what did I take away from the conference?

ArcGIS Platform

So underneath it all, what has changed. Well first ESRI has really focused on bug fixes. I know we’ve all heard this before, but I think the new crash reporting dialog will give better feedback to ESRI and internally they’ve caught many bugs that might not have been caught without the crash reporter. In addition ESRI is using Coverity to help uncover hidden bugs in the code (read some of these case studies, very interesting stuff). I was told that they found stuff that has been hidden for years in the code that would have caused problems, but for one reason or another never was discovered. I think it is safe to say the 9.3 code base will be as bug free as anything they’ve ever released (hold for joke) and given how short this beta period is I think they are confident that they’ve delivered on this.

The focus at 9.3 is stability, performance and security. Those are 3 areas I know have been a great concern for most ESRI users/developers and the examples that we were given between 9.2 and 9.3 showed great performance increases (I can’t comment on stability until I’ve worked with 9.3 for a while). The new security improvements aren’t revolutionary, but address the specific concerns users have had with the product (specifically check out the security presentation on EDN from the DevSummit for the details).

ArcGIS Server

Well there are tons of new “exciting” features with 9.3 as we’ve all heard. First of the REST API is the real deal. The REST API can server up tiles to Google Maps and Virtual Earth (assuming you use the “web Mercator” projection) and the ability to use ArcGIS Server with Yahoo! pipes really opens the possibilities of taking ArcGIS Server and moving it into areas that we’ve not been working in. Providing results from Geoprocessing is as easy as appending f=kmz to the URL (don’t you just love RESTful services?). The JavaScript API is based on Dojo so you’ve got some power in there to make some really interesting JavaScript applications. The Google Maps and Virtual Earth (2D and 3D support) extenders allow you to bring your ArcGIS Server services right into consumer mapping products. The JavaScript API is hosted by ESRI and in the Akamai cloud so it should be very stable anywhere in the world. We’ll be seeing a ton of new applications out there based on the JavaScript API in the next year, that I’m sure of.

Now don’t forget about the .NET Web ADF (didn’t hit any Java sessions this year). It is now what ESRI is calling a “hybrid” model meaning that there is both server and client side stuff going on (rather than the total server side stuff at 9.2). The key new feature is ASP.NET AJAX, but it is still very compatible with 9.2 projects (usually just change a line or two of code and your old projects should still work). The core controls are now scriptable with the ASP.NET AJAX libraries so you can do a ton more on the client than you did before. The JavaScript API in the Web ADF is totally different than the other one (the Server JavaScript API for use with RESTful) so your code may have to be customized between the two versions if you jump between the REST API and the Web ADF. The Task Framework is much improved and you can now build them using User Contols. In addition they are releasing tasks into the code gallery on the ESRI Resource Center for Server (I’ll talk more about the Resource Centers later) so you’ll be able to see what ESRI has done and create your own modifications. The documentation in the Resource Center is so much better than what was available in 9.3. The examples are great and the explanations are detailed and well written. The performance of the Web ADF at 9.3 has increased at least 100% if not more. If you ever blended two data sources (one tiled, one dynamic) you know that it takes the dynamic one time to match the tile scheme that the tile scheme already existing. Now each resource has its own tiling scheme and the layers load much faster. The Web ADF (and obviously the JavaScript API above) will be “uncoupled” from the ArcGIS Server release schedule. This means that you won’t have to wait years for new features to be implemented. Silverlight 2.0 support will probably happen way before 9.4 arrives which would have us all complaining down the road I’m sure. Dave Bouwman has a great write-up on the details of the .NET session so head over to his blog to read up on his thoughts.

ArcGIS Explorer

I’ve already posted on the new features in the 480 release due in May and the 600/700 release due by the end of the year in my Plenary session post, but I’ll list some of the new features in Explorer that caught my eye. First off 480 will increase performance (multi-threaded), direct connect to SDE, GPX support, GeoRSS support and improved task frameworks and popups (the bubbles). Build 600 has the new Microsoft “ribbon” interface and looks great. From a usability standpoint, the information you are working with gets presented right to you and not hidden by interfaces. You will also be able to finally view the maps in 2D mode. I think this will be a boon to organizations who are using AGX as a decision making tool. Ease of use goes a long way. The “enhanced” ArcGIS Explorer SDK will allow you to embed AGX inside your applications. I asked how ESRI would charge for this SDK and they are still thinking about it (will the SDK be free and the deployments cost, will the SDK cost and deployments be free, or will everything be free).

ESRI Resource Centers

New at 9.3 is the ESRI Resource Centers. You’ve already been looking at the first one for quite some time (the ArcGIS Explorer Resource Center) and the ones for ArcGIS Server, Desktop, Engine, Image Server, Mobile, IMS and Geodatabase are currently available for those in the 9.3 beta program. These are help centers where you can get support, online help, code samples, interactive SDKs and other resources that you can use with developing (or even using) the ArcGIS Platform. The forums are due to be re-launched based on the Beta forums (which means you’ll be able to subscribe to a forum topic via RSS). There will be many new blogs available from teams that haven’t blogged yet and there might be community aspects introduced as well. How this all interacts with the EDN site I have no idea.


The one thing that scares me and Dave Bouwman did bring it up at the closing session is overselling what you can do with the new REST API and JavaScript API. Have sales staff running around that you can create “rich” JavaScript applications “consuming” ArcGIS Server services using only 12 lines of code is going to put many of us in a bind. JavaScript is easy to pick up, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be adding complex geoprocessing to your Google Maps mashup with one line. The speed that you can develop has increased, but the complexity will still be there. The JavaScript API will increase your productivity, no doubt. But telling everyone all you need is 12 lines of code will result in disappointment.

What now?

Well I’ve got both ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Desktop installed on my laptop and they seem very stable. Moving forward I think we’ll jump with both feet into the RESTful API and the JavaScript APIs. I think users will want to get their services published via the REST API as soon as possible so Google can start indexing them. What a great way for organizations who want to share their data with the community, just publish and let Google index your services. The ArcGIS Services Explorer is going to be a great tool to learn what is available out there. I had quite a few ArcIMS developers say that they can finally feel comfortable working with ArcGIS Server. The .NET and Java Web ADFs were too much for them and they were usually used to working with simple HTML pages. Compare the speed of JSON vs the speed of sending XML (AXL) requests to the server and see how fast you get a response. It really does highlight why the community at large has really moved to JSON.

So go get on the 9.3 beta, but you’ve got to hurry as 9.3 RTM could happen as early as “June”.

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