ArcGIS 9.2 Product Update

By Adena Schutzberg

_Jack Dangermond described the software strategy for ArcGIS 9.2 as focusing on enhancing the desktop, strengthening and simplifying the geodatabase, extending the server tools and enhancing the mobile products.He noted 20 project teams working on different aspects of the 9.2 release.Some highlights from a long laundry list across the family include the following.

Interoperability - In particular Dangermond highlighted semantic interoperability, the ability to translate (or as he put it "transliterate") between schemas.That, he offered, will allow "different user views" of the same data.In the future, he expects that will become a service.That is, you can upload your data to a service and have it be translated to match another data structure, say that of your state, to enhance local and national data infrastructures.

Cartography - One key idea is that individual features can have multiple representations.That information will be stored in the database just like other attributes.Cartographic simplification/generalization will also be enhanced.

Sketching - A new sketching toolbar allows for redlining, but also allows redlining of real geographic features.Dangermond highlighted the use of this feature in planning and his discipline of choice, landscape architecture.

Geoprocessing - There'll be enhanced support for large databases, and more spatial analysis and statistics.One from the list of note for me was random sampling.

Time - There are several new tools for managing, storing and querying data relating to time.

Terrain - A new feature type will store multi-resolution terrain surfaces.It will be valuable for managing LiDAR data in particular.

Imagery support - Look for dynamic ortho creation, support for JPEG2000, ECW, and raster attribute tables (which drew applause).

Server News
ArcGIS Server will soon be able to serve "Globes," that is 3D data services, which is "sexy." And while more ArcGIS functionality is moving to ArcGIS Server, much of the work will be on making the Server behave better in a traditional information technology.

ArcIMS hasn't had a "big upgrade" in a number of years, but it will with 9.2.David Maguire, director of products and international, explained that ArcIMS will be "modernized via .NET" and will sport a new tool for developing websites, Designer.It's essentially a "wizard" that walks you through the process of setting up a service.Both those looking to produce a quick and easy service and those looking for a set of code as a starting point will find it useful.

At the opening session, ESRI announced Image Server, a means to process and distribute raw imagery.A demo illustrated data being radiometrically balanced, mosaicked and pan-sharpened on the fly.The 8 TB database would have required 30 TB to be preprocessed.Instead, the area of interest was processed when needed.One particularly cool thing: since the server has the raw data, it's possible to see orthos from another direction, that is, the other side of the building.Dangermond noted the server as a paradigm change, and commented that it would not compete with other ESRI or partner products including desktop image analysis packages.

I got the backstory from one of the products developers.Originally called Prompt Server (pdf), Image Server was developed by Middle East ESRI partner MAPS geosystems.The data can be stored either in flat files (very fast) or in a database (not so fast, typically) depending on the user's needs.Further it can serve up the data either via its own streaming, HTML or via OGC's Web Map Service specification, WMS.For the former, you need a client that "speaks the language." The good news is that there are plugins for AutoCAD, MicroStation, GeoMedia, ArcGIS and other products.For HMTL, just a web-browser can act as a client and for WMS, any WMS client will work.

API News
In other server news, there'll be an Oracle SQL API.David Maguire explained what that means.First off, there are already ones for DB2 and Informix, both written by ESRI.But, there's already an SQL API for Oracle, from Oracle, called Oracle Spatial.Recall that to make it, Oracle created a new abstract type (one that's not integer, date, char, etc., that databases already understand).ESRI will have its abstract type called the ESRI Spatial Type.The type itself is not that important, Maguire was quick to point out, it's the fact that there's an SQL API available to "put data in and get data out."

The API is built on ISO SQL and OGC's specs, so it only handles simple features (points, lines and polygons).That may make it less appealing to those doing high powered analysis with networks and the like.On the other hand, it will be possible to move data into and out of Oracle from ArcGIS, going around SDE, which may be appropriate for some users. ESRI currently plans to package the API with ArcSDE.

Down the road, ESRI will implement an SQL API for Microsoft SQL Server. That work depends on the 2005 release of the database, since it will be the first to support abstract types.The implementation will be a bit more complex than with Oracle, as ESRI will need to write its own index for the new data type.

Services News
ESRI announced some free ArcWeb Services, called Public Services.To date, ArcWeb Services have been "pay for" services.But now ESRI offers several (2D) for free for non-commercial use.The data is from National Geographic, GlobeXplorer and TeleAtlas."Public Services provide non-commercial and non-governmental publishers with an environment permanently free of advertising." There' a .SOAP (NET/Java) API.3D data will be available later this year.This announcement, it seems to me, addresses current newly available services in the marketplace.

Client News
On the client side is ArcExplorer - a new ArcExplorer.ESRI is "recycling the name" of its original viewer to reflect the movement of GIS users from creators of geographic information (ArcInfo), viewers and analyzers of it (ArcView) to explorers of it (ArcExplorer).Today, Maguire suggests, casual or non-technical users want to ask a question and get an answer, not fuse data or reproject it or run into "overhead" while doing so.

ArcExplorer will be "free, simple, attractive and fun" and can tap into data from ArcIMS, ArcGIS Server including Globe Server, OGC Web Services and other sources.A demonstration showed taking 2D data out to a globe for draping, then overlaying it on a globe, right in the free viewer.Then, the user tagged locations with messages that could be viewed by others.Next up: service area analysis.Said Dangermond, "this is very significant" referring the fact that you could, with ArcGIS server at the back end, do "very complicated analysis." His intent, I feel sure, was to distinguish this offering from the consumer ones currently available in the marketplace.

Expect a standalone .NET (Windows) version, an HTML versoin, Java version and perhaps a mobile version.The first one is expected in October.

Geodatabase News
The new vision for a file based geodatabase was described as the next shape file.But there are other new offerings, including a personal version (free) and workgroup version (not so free geodatabase, but not as much as ArcSDE).Each one comes with embedded SDE and database.SDE is the solution for the enterprise.

Three Legs of the Stool
Depending on who you speak to at ESRI, you'll get a different answer to the question, what's the key technology at 9.2? One respondent said ArcExplorer and smart clients.Another said the servers and services. The real answer, according to Maguire, is all of those: (1) servers that create (2) services (data and processing) and (3) clients from which to use them.

Published Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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