ArcGIS 9.3 – More Detail, No Change

Akeal and I attended the Technology Directions Update for ArcGIS 9.3 put on by ESRI today.  It pretty much confirmed my last post about ArcGIS 9.3 (that post can be read by clicking here), in that we won’t be upgrading to it.

There were three presentations:

• Extensions in 9.3 (Maplex, Spatial Analyst and 3D Analyst)
• ArcGIS Server 9.3 (actually more about web services)
• ArcGIS Server Mobile 9.3

The first presentation talked about what upgrades there were in the three extensions.  While the presentation was well done, the content was a bit underwhelming.  Maplex, which I don’t know much about, is an interesting product – it basically has the tools to do professional cartographic labeling.  Shouldn’t this be in software for making maps anyway?  Spatial Analyst had some interesting stuff in it, mainly performance improvements, and a tool that effectively breaks the topology of contours during generation.  3D Analyst made me think I was watching a video game construction tool rather than a GIS (although my Xbox 360 has better graphics, and I can have more fun blowing up the cars rather than just placing and rotating pretty cool markersymbols of Aston Martins).

The presentation on ArcServer 9.3 was a bit harder to follow.  I’m now convinced we have no use for ArcServer in our business, due to cost and the fact that you are tied into the ESRI solution.  I can see where large businesses and organizations can find a use for it.  As usual, all the demos were pre-canned and running off the local machine – and I was surprised at how slow these were.  It would be interesting to find out the lag and display times in a production environment with traffic over a network.  But I reckon there’s a lot in here we can do with open source software – and with more flexibility if not quite as easy and with not as nice interfaces.

The final presentation on ArcServer Mobile 9.3 was one of the better presentations I’ve seen this year, but not the best.  The guy knew his stuff, and talked about one of the things that I think is the most important thing: know your customer and what they do.  This is where some of the open source products out there fall over – because they are built by people with an interest in the software itself, rather than using the software.  I’ve been meaning to write that out for a while, and I will do in another post in the future.

While the demo was again pre-canned, they did show off a TDS Nomad unit which we resell and use in house, so that probably biased me too.  ArcServer Mobile (looking like the replacement to ArcPad in this continuing ESRI theme of bringing everything into a server implementation) looks like a more useful implementation to a wider audience than standard ArcServer.  I heard a lot of people say that it was a good presentation afterwards, and I agree.

The omission – as usual – was the following symbol: $.  Not once did anyone mention how much any of this cost.  While the ArcServer Mobile was a good presentation, you need ArcMap, ArcCatalog, ArcServer Mobile, servers to host this data, a nice fat connection to the publishing server, mobile units, and a method of connecting the mobile units to the publishing server.  While USB cable, Bluetooth and Wireless LAN would work but transferring this data across a mobile connection will rack up your phone bill quite quickly*.  As someone with a PDA mobile who uses Google Maps on it regularly, my phone bills are huge – and that’s less traffic than these mobile applications.

So the end result was that I left with a positive view of this event.  The ESRI Technology Directions seminars give you a good idea where ESRI is heading with their software, and while it’s easy for us to bag it from outside (especially since we don’t profess to be tied to any software vendor), I still think that some of their products are the best out there.  Their longer term strategy makes me wonder, though…

Email me directly here.

* According to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, only 21% of Australia is covered by a mobile network (GSM and CSMA, but they also note that 3G will not improve this on the same page).  For more information, check out this link.

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