So what did I learn at the Western United States Manifold Users Conference?

I had a great time at the WUSMUC and meeting lots of Manifold users. It was interesting to learn that the user conference is not sponsored by Manifold (well technically Manifold is a sponsor but of the user created conference), but a user driven event. Users of Manifold came from all over the United States and Canada to attend the conference and learn about what folks are doing with GIS and Manifold.

The day started off with everyones favorite Dimitri Rotow talking about the Manifold roadmap. I’m under a NDA for the roadmap, but you can pretty much guess they are focused on a most of the things that other technology companies are focused on with one or two “twists” that may interest some folks. Honestly I’m not sure the NDA is needed but if it helps them sleep at night what the heck.

The first presentation was by John Norman of The Taurean Group on how they use Manifold to analyze data for real estate analysis and land use planning. There isn’t anything revolutionary John showed, just how easy it was for him to use Manifold data with TIGER files and create drive time zones, heat zones and detailed community comparison analysis. I guess the point here is you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on software to get results (a common theme over the day). John has a nice tight workflow and scripts most of his work using just VBScript. Nothing fancy at all but it works very well for him and helps his company respond to his clients needs.

The second presentation was by Rob Wood of ScanControl, Inc. Rob’s company works with large wine producers (such as Kendall-Jackson) to help them manage their assets (in this case grapes). They combine smartphone collection tools with SQL Server CE in the field and SQL Server and back in “the office”. Because of the harsh conditions and the users of the smartphones not being computer literate, the PDAs have to be simple to use. The detailed data collected by the field hands gets entered into the SQL database and then Kendall-Jackson can make strategic decisions based on the results inside IMS. The simple presentation with IMS allows KJ to focus on the data and make strategic decisions about their grapes and wines. Rob says that other global wine brands are using the same system as well as race the horse racing industry. Rob hit again on the cost of Manifold and its ability to interop with Microsoft SQL Server as key reasons for his decision to use it.

After lunch Danielle Cullen of Digital Mapping Services show how to use the Manifold Map control in applications. Danielle’s application started as a MapObjects application and probably would have been one today if ESRI hasn’t abandoned it. She looked at ArcGIS Engine as many of us have and came to the same conclusion as we have, the licensing just doesn’t work with many clients. (i’m going to stop ranting about MO right now) Anyway after looking at many solutions out there she found and took at look at their Map control. She was able to develop a modern parcel viewer application with Manifold that meets her clients needs. Her demo showed how to use Visual Basic Express, drop the Manifold map control on it and link it to a map document.

The last presentation of the day was by Charles McLane and Joe Luchette of showing how they can host Manifold IMS applications easily for users. I have always been somewhat dubious of how Manifold loads the data into the map file rather than link to it on the server. But in this case the benefit is that you can author your Manifold map, save the map file and then upload it to very easily. Sure it is easy to create a Manifold IMS application, but hosting IMS apps yourself is hard to do (this isn’t just a Manifold thing). Hardware costs are usually much more than software costs (especially in Manifold’s case). How do you plan for growth or spikes in traffic? Truth is smaller shops cannot really deal with such realities and performance is usually disappointing. Thus hosting these IMS applications is critical so that your users/clients will always have timely access to the maps. But the problem I’ve noticed especially with ESRI IMS hosting companies is that they charge way too much money. I had a company email me with prices they wanted me to blog about. $1,499 set up fee and $495 a month shared hosting for an ArcIMS application? Are you kidding me? The folks that really need to take advantage of this service can’t afford that price. I liked the price point has found and at least for users they have a great option.

So what did I learn? I saw a bunch of folks using to accomplish the same tasks that ESRI, MapInfo, FOSS software users are. They don’t drink as much kool-aid as you might thing in regards to Manifold and are very realistic about its pro and cons. They all had different reasons for ending up on and are very happy with their choice. I love hearing about how folks are using GIS software in their daily work and I had a great time meeting everyone at th WUSMUC. If there is one thing GIS users like doing it is talking shop and we all had a great time. I’d recommend anyone interested in Manifold go to the Eastern United States Manifold User Conference in May 2008.

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