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Product Review: MapInfo Professional Version 9.0

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Thursday, August 16th 2007
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Summary:

MapInfo Professional version 9.0 is the latest release of Pitney Bowes MapInfo’s desktop location intelligence software. The major features and enhancements of this release are enhanced data access, time-based analysis and better looking maps. Paul Amos provides a review.

Pitney Bowes MapInfo
One Global View
Troy, New York 12180
Tel: 518-285-6000 or 800-FASTMAP
Fax: 518-285-6070
http://www.mapinfo.com

The price for MapInfo Professional version 9.0 is $1,495, single seat list price. Concurrent licensing is available. Volume licensing discounts are also available. You can download a free 30-day evaluation version of MapInfo Professional v9.0.

Introduction
MapInfo Professional version 9 is the latest release of Pitney Bowes MapInfo's desktop location intelligence software. The major features and enhancements of this release are:
  • Enhanced data access
  • Time-based analysis
  • Better looking maps
MapInfo Professional version 9 is compatible with the Windows Vista Ultimate (the most complete version) operating system. The product also runs on Windows XP Professional SP2, XP Home SP 2, XP (64-bit), and Windows 2000 SP 4 operating systems on the desktop, and Windows 2003 Server and Citrix Meta Frame v4.x operating systems on servers.

Enhanced Data Access
MapInfo Professional version 9 includes ODBC drivers for Oracle ODBC Driver 9.x, MS SQL Server 2000 and 2003 and Informix 3.82. MapInfo supports database servers with point data using ODBC for Oracle 10G and 9iR2, MS Access XP, MS SQL Server 2000 and 2005, and Informix 9.4. The following database servers with spatial geometry are supported: MS Access with MapInfo Professional, SpatialWare for SQL Server 2000/2005, IBM Informix 9.x, Oracle Spatial 10G and 9i, and ESRI SDE databases (read-only).

MapInfo Professional version 9 includes a new menu option in the File menu called Open Universal Data. This option provides direct data access into, and in many cases back out of, MapInfo Professional version 9 using Safe Software's Feature Manipulation Engine (FME), to seven commonly used GIS and Engineering data formats: AutoCAD DWG/DXF, ESRI ArcInfo Export (E00), ESRI ArcSDE, ESRI Personal Geodatatbases (*.mdb), MicroStation Design (DGN), Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS), and Vector Product Format (VPF) Coverages. MapInfo Professional version 9 can be extended to open data directly from over 150 spatial data formats for users who have a fully licensed version of Safe Software's FME Suite. Users with the FME Suite can add formats to the default Formats Gallery shown in Figure 1 by pressing the Add Formats button and selecting the data format from the FME Suite.

Figure 1. FME Suite Data Formats Gallery available with MapInfo Professional 9.0. (Click for larger image)

MapInfo Professional version 9 must have access to the following ArcSDE 9.2 client dynamically linked libraries (Dll's): sde.dll, sg.dll, and pe.dll, to connect to ArcSDE databases. These libraries are installed with the ArcGIS 9.2 desktop application, the ArcSDE SDK 9.2 or ArcReader 9.2, and they are present if ArcView 9.2, ArcEditor 9.2, or ArcInfo 9.2 is installed. The dll's can also be obtained by downloading ESRI's ArcReader 9.2 free from ESRI's website and following the instructions in the MapInfo Professional Help menu to set the environmental variables on the system. MapInfo Professional version 9 only supports vector datasets from ArcSDE with the Universal Data option; raster datasets cannot be opened with the Universal Data option.

After data are added through the Open Universal Data option, a MapInfo .tab file will be created that references the source data. Unlike the Universal Translator tool, the .tab file created with the Universal Data option is simply a pointer to the source data and not an imported copy of the data. As the source data are updated, the changes in the source data will be reflected in the layer in the MapInfo Professional map window. Multiple data formats can be opened in the same map window at the same time using the Universal Data option.

Time-based Analysis
Previous versions of MapInfo Professional included the designation of a "Date" data type for fields in MapInfo tables. MapInfo Professional version 9 includes two new data types to improve time based analysis and recognizes "Date/Time" and "Time" data types in addition to the "Date" data type. MapInfo Professional version 9 accepts both military and AM/PM formats. The data can specify the entire locale in AM or PM strings or use just the first character of each. Instructions for registering Excel, Access, dBase and ASCII or text files is shown in the Help menu since these different file types handle dates and times differently.

The Date and Time data types can be queried to select records based on a certain date or based on a range of specific dates and/or times. Figure 2 shows a map of crime locations with a thematic layer of crimes displayed by the time range in which the crime occurred, along with a browser window of the source data showing the fields with the Date, Time and Date/Time data types.

Figure 2. Map of Date/Time data and browser window with date/time fields. (Click for larger image)

Better Looking Maps
MapInfo Professional version 9 includes new functionality to improve the appearance of maps and to streamline the creation of layout templates. The ability to create custom curved labels is a new feature in MapInfo Professional version 9. The curved labels option appears in the label options dialog available for all feature types, however the curved labels only appear in arc/polyline feature layers. The curved labels are set by selecting the Curve labels along segments option in the Position section of the label options dialog box as shown in Figure 3. The Label tool can be used to move the curved labels and the curves will automatically be updated to the geometry of the polyline where the Label tool clicked. Curved labels follow the same rules for overlap detection, duplicate text and partial segment labeling as non-curved labels. Each of these rules affects how and when MapInfo Professional displays the labels.

Figure 3. Label Options dialog box with map of curved labels on streets and rivers. (Click for larger image)

The symbol style dialog box includes a new homeland security and emergency response group of symbols and fonts prepared by the U.S. Office of Homeland Security (OHS). OHS created these fonts to standardize the way emergency circumstances and industries are depicted in maps. The TrueType fonts are listed using the format "ERS v# symbol type" in the symbol style dialog box. The new fonts are grouped into five classifications: ERS v2 Damage, ERS v2 Incidents, ERS v2 Infrastructures Stage 01 - 04, ERS v2 Natural Events, and ERS v2 Operations Stage 01 - 04. Figure 4 shows an example of the TSA symbol in the ERS_ v2 Operations Stage 01 - 04 symbol group.

Figure 4. New Emergency Response symbols and fonts. (Click for larger image)

The Tools menu in MapInfo Professional version 9 includes new options to Create, Configure and Edit Layout Templates. The Create Template option will open a blank layout and will display a toolbar with the Template Tools to create the layout template (see Figure 5.) The Template Tools includes buttons to add elements to the layout template such as a map or graph. The buttons on Template Tools are: Add Map, Add Browser, Add Scale Bar, Add Legend, Add Graph, Add Text, Save Template and Quit Template without saving. The Add Text button provides functionality to add text to the template such as a Map Title, Map Scale, Print Date, Print Time and a User Text prompt. The Print Date and Print Time options will add the current date and time to the layout to show when the layout was created. After a template is created, the user will press the Save the Template button to add it to the list of templates available within MapInfo Professional version 9. If the user wants to make changes to a layout template, the user should choose Edit Template from the Tools menu.

Figure 5. Layout Template with the Template Tools toolbar. (Click for larger image)

To retrieve the layout template, choose the Create Layout from Template option in the Map menu. A dialog box will open with a drop-down box that lists the available templates. Choose the template from this dropdown box and users can also specify a Map Title, Map Scale and Zoom Layers. The dialog box includes a button to View Template so users can see how the template looks. MapInfo Professional version 9 will then fill in the layout template elements with the appropriate windows and information (see Figure 5).

Additional Enhancements
MapInfo Professional version 9 includes functionality to export map windows to the GeoTiff image file format. GeoTiff files store georeferencing information. The Save Map Window option in the File menu will export the GeoTiff with the coordinate system of the map window and will store the coordinate information directly in the *.tif file.

MapBasic can be downloaded free of charge (this is new - it was always a product you had to purchase) from MapInfo's website for this release of MapInfo Professional only. MapBasic is a programming language, which has been around for many years, that allows users to customize or automate functions within MapInfo Professional. The complete MapBasic Help menu is included with MapInfo Professional and shows the purpose, syntax and examples of all MapBasic language features. Old MapBasic scripts will work with the new MapInfo Professional but the new version of MapBasic cannot be used to write scripts for older versions of MapInfo Professional. The updated MapBasic programming language supports the new Time and Date/Time data formats and is not compatible with previous versions of MapInfo Professional..

MapInfo Professional version 9 now includes an option to add multiple HotLinks to map features. Hotlinks provide the ability to link any map object with other information such as a picture of a crime scene and a police report or even a short video when clicking on crime location point. HotLinks are added in the Layer Control dialog by choosing a layer and pressing the HotLink button. A dialog box will appear to Add, Remove or Reorder HotLinks. To view HotLinks on a map, use the HotLinks tool and click on a feature. When a user clicks a map object with multiple HotLinks, a list of the HotLinks are displayed and the user can select the HotLink to view.

Conclusion
MapInfo Professional 9.0 is the first release of MapInfo's desktop location intelligence software under the new Pitney Bowes MapInfo name. MapInfo Professional version 9 follows MapInfo's trend of designing its desktop software to reflect changes in the operating systems environments, database software, and includes functions to improve the user experience with the software. MapInfo Professional version 9 provides many benefits for new and existing users who upgrade to this version, including the direct access to commonly used GIS and engineering data formats through the included FME Suite, time based analysis, free MapBasic programming language and improvements that make maps easier to read and create.


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