Reflections on the 2009 ESRI Developer Summit

Well another year and another successful ESRI Business Partner Conference and Developer Summit. I know these time are really tough, but it was well worth the trip (OK, it wasn’t that far from Tempe, but…). First off seeing everyone again was great and some friends that I hadn’t interacted with in some time. I know I didn’t post much from the DevSummit and this was because my laptop is a beast and I got tired of lugging it around, plus Twitter is much easier to manage on the iPhone.

So what was “the story” out of the DevSummit? First off it was the Silverlight and Flex APIs. Both are really going to take center stage for ESRI developers because we seem to be hitting the ceiling (this aside of course) of what JavaScript APIs can do. The Silverlight API is really rock solid and just a stroll through the demos really highlights what can be accomplished. The Flex API too is getting huge and I think it will come down to what you prefer as a development environment. .NET developers will go Silverlight and Java/”other” will go to Flex.

Also it was about performance. ArcGIS Server 9.3 is now faster than ArcIMS. I’ll just come out and say it, you have zero excuse (since the cost of both is the same) and the maps look so much better and come out so much faster. Plus ESRI gives us the tools to determine what is slowing down the dynamic maps and make changes. Coupled with this was the announcement that you can license the APIs (JSAPI, Flex and Silverlight) without ArcGIS Server. Instead you get ArcGIS Online for your basemaps, $2k per year with unlimited requests. Try that with Microsoft or Google. I heard people talking about the Web ADFs as well being uncoupled from the Server as well. This means that we’ll see ArcGIS Explorer, the JSAPIs, Flex API, Silverlight API and the Web ADFs all being improved outside of the Server release schedule.

ArcGIS Explorer 900 is just about ready to be released (probably with 9.3.1) and is looking great. The presentation mode (think PowerPoint for 3D globes), Virtual Earth integration and Layer Packages (yep, you can now have great cartography in layers that aren’t map services). I’ll probably devote a whole blog post on AGX 900 soon because it is too much to fit in this post.

ArcGIS Online and Layer Packages is the one that threw me. Most people seemed confused and used words such as “Geography Network” to describe it. That probably isn’t fair, but I think ESRI needs to work harder at describing the business case for ArcGIS Online for the users and ESRI itself. Still the ability to host Layer Packages and limit them to groups of users is great and I can see people using that. If there was one subject where people seemed most confused out of the DevSummit, I’d say it was this.

The Python tools in ArcGIS Desktop are looking great. Remember ArcPlot? Well now you have map automation with Python. Remember ArcEdit? Well now you have an integrated Python window and intellisense (well we never had that in ArcEdit did we?). Plus now you can leverage all the Python projects out there to improve your own analysis. So not only is it like the old days, but it is so much better. Python is one of the best things ESRI has done on the Desktop.

9.4 looks great as well. No more geoprocessing locking up your windows. Now the processes run in the background and you can continue working. Also ArcCatalog is now integrated so you only need to work with one application now, ArcMap (I wonder if it will cease to be ArcMap and just be called Desktop?). David Chappell, the keynote, let go that the ArcGIS REST API will be feature equivalent to the SOAP API so that will be a huge change for everyone. When David’s talk on SOAP and REST is posted by ESRI, make sure you read it. By far the best Keynote I’ve ever seen. I’m glad ESRI brought him to talk about this subject.

Delorme is also going to offer their maps as a premium service though ArcGIS Online. I’m really excited about this because their maps cover the world and they are just so damn impressive. I can see that service being used by lots of people as basemaps. Keep your eye out for this because the service blew everyone watching away.

The User Presentations were great and well attended (mostly standing room only). Next year they will be moved to a room all their own and more sessions will be offered. I think this was a great opportunity for all of us who presented to show what we are working on with ArcGIS and show some real work examples of ESRI in action. The demos ESRI puts up are nice, but I’m sure they never have time to put the effort into them that they wish they could. Seeing users pushing around ArcGIS was great and that is why everyone was standing in the back. So if your talk wasn’t accepted this year, pay attention next year beacause there will be more sessions. Given the crowds this year, I anticipate many more users submitting talks.

Lastly the best part is being able to sit down with ESRI staff and talk about what we are trying to do or show them code we are working on. This interaction helps develop relationships outside of the normal channels and gives users more power than they would just calling an 800 number. Seeing users pull out their laptops and start up Visual Studio, Eclipse, Aptana, or Flex Builder must give the ESRI guys goose bumps. It is sort of like going to the old “Doctor’s Office” (do they still have that?) at the ESRI User Conference in the summer.

So what do we need to pay attention to? 9.3.1 will be out in “May”. 9.4 will go Beta “after” the UC in July. Silverlight API is in beta now. ArcGIS Explorer 900 will enter a limited beta “soon”. The APIs are being uncoupled from ArcGIS Server. Flex and Silverlight are taking off. Python is finally coming into its own. The JavaScript APIs have code assist in Aptana. ArcGIS Online continues to be developed and improved. And finally we’ll be able to install ArcGIS Desktop 9.4 on the same machine as ArcGIS Server 9.3.1 (or ArcGIS Desktop 9.4 along side of ArcGIS Desktop 9.3.1).

The only think left is for me to beg again for ESRI to enable Wikis on their support pages.

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