MapInfo 9.5 - Under the Hood

By Joe Francica

Editor-in-chief Joe Francica spoke with Moshe Binyamin, MapInfo Professional Product Manager, about some of the features announced in the release of MapInfo Professional 9.5.

Prior to its release, MapInfo went on the road to talk with customers to see what they wanted most in the new release. The road show was conducted globally and helped the company's developers target the functionality most in demand. They were told that a focus on map cartographic quality was essential. Users wanted the ability to effectively convey information about the map to their constituents. This goal could be achieved with a better labeling and symbology interface. In addition, from across MapInfo vertical industry clients the request came for data creation and precise data editing. And finally, ease of use was a constant on the list of requested improvements.

"It's really about observing the user and finding the ways to simplify the process. Tweaks and fixes can be done at the feature level which help the customer to move along," said Binyamin.

In the area of labeling, Binyamin noted that in earlier releases the product supported ways to curve objects. But this time, speaking to different vertical industry clients, they wanted very specific improvements. As a result of discussions with its telecommunications clients, MapInfo implemented the ability to place text in nine different locations around a point for labeling. Departments of transportation wanted multiple accident location labeling capabilities. Some of these requests moved MapInfo to look at several label locations. A result of this vertical industry push, these new features were a welcomed addition in more than one sector.

Binyamin noted, "Most users spend their time interacting with the map, clicking on different objects or using the layer control and turning things on or off." In fact, MapInfo found that 70% of a user's time is spent in the Map Window. When interacting with many layers, the question is does the user wants a "one click" way to switch and interact more quickly? For example, a user might be using the "roads" layer and then want to switch to the "customer" layer, requiring a quick and smooth means to go back and forth. "When observing the customer, we've added intelligence and ï¿1⁄2right click' options to help users to interact with the layer and allow them to select more features on a layer level - move things around or change colors," said Binyamin. "If you look at the traditional way, you had to know the name of the layer and go into the layer control, and it was a multi-step process. Once you have it [this feature], you say, ï¿1⁄2How come you didn't have it before?'"

Other feature improvements include data access engine support interoperability with Oracle 11g and Microsoft SQL Server 2008. "Quite a few customers, when we asked about SQL Server 2008, have indicated they are going to use it," said Binyamin.

Changes in Oracle 11g had an impact on product development for 9.5. Oracle changed some of the structures but a key need was the in area of annotation text support. More European organizations are storing much of their infrastructure data in the database. In many cases historically, annotation text was in a proprietary format, like Intergraph or Autodesk. Oracle 11g found a way to store text in the database and MapInfo is supporting this feature.

Another area of improvement was in the ability to understand the difference between looking at maps online versus examining maps for analysis. Those options may result in different coloring or shading, and that's why the addition of the vector translucency layer was valuable.

Binyamin said the company is always working at performance because its users are doing more on the desktop than ever before. "We've increased the number of nodes that a single object can have (offered in previous versions as well) to 10 million for one object." For example, the telecommunications industry may want a single map that includes a very large polygon with many nodes. Operations against those objects are expected to be much better and therefore the object-processing engine is being examined for improvements. Customers expect that if you can support objects of this size, then performance should keep pace. MapInfo has launched a private beta for an object engine that will result in an update for 9.5, coming in the fall of 2008.

MapInfo has also added the ability to support the Open Geospatial Consortium's Web Feature Service (WFS)-Transaction specification (pdf). MapInfo Professional had supported WFS in 8.5 but that was "read only." With WFS-Transaction server you can download the data locally and refresh the server with any updates to data made on the client.

Finally, MapInfo has made MapBasic .NET compliant. MapBasic, free in the last release, was an efficient tool but lacked a graphic user interface. Now MapBasic is supported in the .NET Framework 2.0, which was used in the design of MapInfo Professional 9.5. With this version, MapInfo is supplying sample code and .NET enablement will allow developers to take advantage of a more mainstream development environment.

MapInfo is offering users the opportunity to attend a local seminar during its ongoing road show.

Published Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Written by Joe Francica

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