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Product Review: MapInfo Professional Version 10.5

Wednesday, August 4th 2010
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Summary:

MapInfo Professional v10.5 continues to integrate user suggestions into the software to make it as user-friendly as possible. Functionality new to MapInfo Professional v10.5 includes better access to mapping data, quicker and easier access when working with maps and tables, better ways to share maps and enhancements to the user interface. Users will find that the search function in the MapInfo Professional Catalog Browser will help them locate data much quicker.

Distributor
Pitney Bowes Business Insight
One Global View Troy, New York 12180

MapInfo Professional version 10.5, launched in June 2010, is the latest release of the desktop location intelligence software from Pitney Bowes Business Insight. This review will focus on enhancements to the software since the previous version. MapInfo Professional v10.5 continues to integrate user suggestions into the software to make it as user-friendly as possible. The functionality that has been added to MapInfo Professional v10.5 includes better access to mapping data, quicker and easier access when working with maps and tables, better ways to share maps, and enhancements to the user interface.

Better
Access to Mapping Data
MapInfo Professional v10.5 includes new tools and functionality to easily locate and access data via the Internet. The Catalog Browser allows users to search the metadata of spatial and nonspatial databases available on the Internet. The Catalog Browser returns catalog records that meet the criteria the user specifies. The Catalog Browser can search any OGC Catalog Service for the Web (CSW)-compliant catalog. One example of a CSW catalog is eXcat from the Geospatial Data Service Centre (GDSC) at the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory NLR. Figure 1 displays the Catalog Browser dialog box.

The Catalog Browser is accessed through the File > Open Web Services > Search CSW Catalogs menu. Alternatively, there are two new buttons on the Web Services toolbar that users can press to quickly search the CSW Data Catalogs and the PBBI Data Catalog. The CSW-compliant PBBI Data Catalog, which accesses PBBI's new data-as-a-service offering, allows users to quickly identify, locate, sample, select, prepare, deliver and use the data. The PBBI Data Catalog consists of hundreds of global geo-datasets created by PBBI and its extensive third-party data partner network. Datasets include streets, boundaries, postcodes, demographics and industry-specific content like insurance risk data and telecommunications data. Users can add, remove and edit data catalogs from their searches to control the number of catalogs available for locating metadata. The Catalog Browser allows the user to choose a data catalog, specify the geographic search area, or search with a keyword. The results will be displayed in the right panel of the Catalog Browser. There are advanced search options that include a spatial operator, field, date and record types to further refine the metadata search. Users can search multiple catalogs with the Catalog Browser by adding a tab to the right panel of the Catalog Browser and selecting a data catalog to search in that tab.

Figure 1: Catalog Browser dialog box. (Click for larger view.)


MapInfo Professional v10.5 provides users with functionality to connect to tile server data with the software. A tile server is an online server that contains a collection of raster tiles that organizes map data into a row/column grid format where each tile represents predefined map layers for a specific area on the earth. Tile servers also contain multiple levels of tiles which provide different resolutions of the data at different map scales. Common examples of tile servers on the Internet include Microsoft Bing imagery and Google Earth. MapInfo Professional v10.5 takes care of fetching the appropriate tiles from the tile server to display a tile server layer in a map window. Users can create their own tile servers with MapInfo Developer or MapXtreme.NET, but they must connect to these tile servers with the Create Table command in the MapBasic window.

MapInfo Professional v10.5 provides a free and easy access to global Microsoft Bing imagery data. The Standard Toolbar contains two new buttons that will automatically connect to the Microsoft Bing Aerial or Microsoft Bing Hybrid tile server to add the layers to the map. There are also two new menu options under the File menu to add the Bing layers to the map. Unlike other tile servers, where a MapBasic command is used to connect, the Bing data are connected automatically with the new buttons. You do not need to open the Bing table prior to adding it to the map. The Bing layers will automatically display additional details at different map scales. Figure 2 shows a map window with the Microsoft Bing Aerial and Microsoft Bing Hybrid layers.

Figure 2: MapInfo Professional map window with Microsoft Bing Aerial and Microsoft Bing Hybrid layers. (Click for larger view.)


The Open Universal Data Capability has been updated in MapInfo Professional v10.5. This capability is based on Feature Manipulation Engine (FME) technology from Safe Software and provides direct access to a variety of data formats within MapInfo Professional. MapInfo Professional v10.5 supports Google's KML format, which allows users to open Google KML and KMZ files directly into a map window. The capability supports direct opening of KML files from the user's local drive or from a URL pointing to a KML file on the Internet.

Working with Tables and Maps
The new Table List function provides a window that displays the names of all tables that are open, whether mappable or not. Figure 3 shows an example of the new Table List window. The Table List provides users with a quick and easy way to access tables, search for tables, and perform actions on tables with fewer mouse clicks. There are buttons on the Table List window that will group tables by type, sort tables in ascending or descending order, and display recently opened tables first. The Table List provides a search function where the user can begin typing the name of a table and the table list is filtered with each keystroke to show tables that include the characters typed in the search box. Users can right-click on a table name in the Table List to view a popup menu where they can select records, browse the table, open a table in a new map window, export the table, refresh a table, view the table structure, create points, update a column in the table, and view a catalog record.

Figure 3: Table List window showing different table types. (Click for larger view.)


MapInfo Professional v10.5 includes a new symbology option to create stacked styles for point, polyline and polygon features. A stacked style is a list of styles drawn on top of each other to create a more complex or interesting looking map feature. Users will have to check the Use Stacked Styles checkbox in the Layer Properties to access the Stacked Styles dialog box. The Stacked Styles dialog box allows users to add, remove, order and modify styles to create a customized symbol utilizing multiple styles. Figure 4 shows the Layer Properties and the Stacked Line Styles dialog boxes with an example of a stacked line symbol with three styles stacked together.

Figure 4: The Layer Properties and the Stacked Line Styles dialog boxes. (Click for larger view.)


Another improvement in MapInfo Professional v10.5 is the ability to create multiple Style Overrides and Label Overrides for layers when zooming on the map. Style and Label Overrides are useful to control the display of a layer's features and labels as the user zooms in and out. Style and Label Overrides are applied by right-clicking on the layer name in the Layer Control and selecting Add a Display Override or Add a Label Override from the popup menu. MapInfo Professional will automatically create scale ranges for the layer but the user can change the default scale by changing the Display Override Properties. The scale range of the Style Override will appear under the layer name in the Layer Control window. Users can change the layer symbols to appear differently as the user changes the scale of the map. Figure 5 shows a Layer Control window with three Style Overrides for the Interstates Layer. The layer's current Style Override is shown in black lettering, while layers that are out of the scale range are displayed in gray lettering.

Figure 5: Layer Control window with three Style Overrides for the Interstates layer. (Click for larger view.)


Sharing Maps
MapInfo Professional has expanded the functionality of outputting maps to Adobe PDF files over the last couple of software releases. The MapInfo Professional Standard Toolbar includes a new button to output maps directly to the MapInfo PDF Printer Version 10.5 driver. This enhancement will save users time, as the button opens the Printer dialog box with the MapInfo PDF Printer Version 10.5 already selected along with a PDF button on the Printer dialog box to specify the PDF preferences. Figure 6 shows the MapInfo PDF Printer Version 10.5 dialog box along with the PDF Options dialog box.

Figure 6: MapInfo PDF Printer Version 10.5 and the PDF Preferences dialog boxes. (Click for larger view.)


This software release includes expanded functionality to store additional information in a PDF file. The PDF Preferences include options to create a Layered PDF, Add Attribute Data to a PDF, Georegister PDF, and Automatically Open the PDF after it is created. Translucent layers are now supported in the layered and georegistered PDFs. Georegistered PDFs allow viewers of the PDF to see coordinates on the map as they move the cursor around. They can also find a location by entering coordinates. Adobe Reader v9 or higher is needed to view map coordinate information. The MapInfo PDF Printer Version 10.5 also supports adding the attribute data of the records on the map into the PDF file. Figure 7 displays a georegistered PDF with attributes within the basic Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Figure 7: MapInfo Professional v10.5 can produce a georegistered PDF with attributes. (Click for larger view.)


MapInfo Professional customers who have MapInfo Stratus accounts can publish their maps and spatial information online to MapInfo Stratus. MapInfo Stratus allows MapInfo Professional users to share their maps and data with colleagues and/or customers who do not have GIS software or expertise. MapInfo Stratus is delivered as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) which operates on Pitney Bowes Business Insight's cloud computing infrastructure. MapInfo Stratus customers can install the Stratus Upload tool, once they obtain a MapInfo Stratus account, under the Tool Manager in MapInfo Professional to upload their maps to MapInfo Stratus. Spatial data are securely uploaded to the cloud where they can be accessed by a range of users through a Web browser. MapInfo Stratus supports all major Web browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome.

User Interface and Toolbar Enhancements
The cursors in MapInfo Professional v10.5 have been updated to a new and improved look, much as the toolbar icons were updated in the previous version of MapInfo Professional. The behavior of the cursors has not changed, only the style in which they are displayed on the screen. MapInfo Professional includes a docking feature that allows windows, such as the Layer Control and Table List, and some tools, such as the Named Views and Catalog Browser, to be docked to the application window. Users can leave the windows as floating or they can dock windows by clicking on the title bar and dragging it to the location where they want to dock it. Users can dock windows to the top, bottom, left or right sides of the map. As the user drags the window, arrows will appear as visual cues to position the window to a location specified by the arrow. Floating windows can be placed in a separate screen than the application for users who have split-screen computer monitors. The docking feature allows the user to control the amount of real estate on the screen and better organize the windows and tools that are visible in the software.

The Synchronize (Sync) Windows tool gives users access to a toolbar that controls the display of selected map windows. Users can synchronize multiple map windows, which allows them to make a change in one window, such as changing the map scale or panning the map, and both windows will be updated at the same time. Synchronized windows are very useful to compare different layers of information at the same location in separate map windows. The Sync Windows toolbar includes tools to add symbols, polylines and polygons to all the Cosmetic layers in the synched windows at the same time or to clear the contents of all the Cosmetic layers at once.

The Named Views tool saves a map's view, position and zoom settings, which enables the user to return to them as needed. This is useful if there is an area of interest that a user needs to refer to frequently. Views that are created with the Name View tool are global and independently saved from the workspaces and tables that they are associated with, meaning they are available for use in all MapInfo Professional workspaces. The Sync Windows and Named View tools are accessed through the Tool Manager in the Tools menu.

Conclusion
MapInfo Professional v10.5 continues to improve the speed and efficiency of the functions in the desktop computer mapping software. The software includes several new buttons and toolbars that reduce the number of mouse clicks needed to perform a function, which improves the end user's productivity. Users will find they have greater control in displaying information on their maps with stacked symbols and style overrides. Users can control the screen display with the window docking and floating functions to maximize the amount of real estate on their screen display. The search function in the MapInfo Professional Catalog Browser will help users locate data much quicker by searching from one central location, rather than having to search the Internet on their own. MapInfo customers should find the ability to easily integrate Bing imagery into their maps as a great resource for visualizing imagery with their map data without having to purchase an additional license or having to maintain the imagery data in-house. Lastly, the PDF options have been expanded in this release, allowing MapInfo Professional users to share interactive maps, rather than just static maps, with their colleagues.

You can learn more about the upgrade and get a 30-day evaluation.


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