Maptitude 5.0 for Great Britain: One User’s Perspective

By Rich Harris

Don't judge a book by its cover or a product by its pun. Maptitude combines superb value for the money with ease of use, wide functionality, excellent interoperability and a good range of bundled data. It will be of interest to new and experienced users alike.

For seven years, Caliper's Maptitude has been my GIS package of choice. It is the one I reach for to map and manipulate data, and to undertake the sorts of geographical operations that are central to my teaching and research.

Initially I was a skeptic. When first shown the product, I also had access to several of the market leaders in GIS (I still do). "Why," I wondered, "would I need another?" But Maptitude won me over with its ease of use, its stability when processing large data sets and its ability to handle non-native file formats, which now include various database and spreadsheet formats, image support, the ability to handle files from other GIS software, some compressed file formats and Ordnance Survey's NTF. Maptitude 5.0 for Great Britain is now in its fifth year of existence. For the cost conscious, the retail price of S$595 can only increase the attraction.

Maptitude begins with a Quick Start window that quickly takes you to an existing map or project, to the Map Librarian or to the Create-a-Map Wizard. Although the Wizard for U.S. users to create a map based on address, city, state or ZIP Code is unavailable in the British edition, it has instead a very useful Find tool that permits the base map to be searched by town, landmark, postcode, county or government region (among other options). Entering United Kingdom as "the country" is an irritation and a geographical inaccuracy not uncommon among American software providers, but the actual countries - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - are still easily mapped.

Entering the postcode BS8 1SS quickly takes me to a road and rail map with the University of Bristol at the center. That map shows Bartholomew Great Britain 1:200,000 data (1: 20,000 for London). Alternatively, I can head to the Map Librarian and produce overview maps of the UK, displaying political or postal geographies, or showing the road network at a level of detail that is automatically selected to be appropriate to the scale. Time from launching the program to producing the map: about one minute or less.

Of course, there are well-known Internet services that can deliver similar information, often for free. What they lack, however, are the data that come bundled with Maptitude. A clear advantage for the business user is the ability to map 2001 census data and some other national statistics by postal sector or other administrative geographies. These data are a little dated but still provide a useful socio-economic backdrop for other information that can be mapped by using the useful "Locate by Postcode" function, for example. Maptitude also includes the sorts of geographical analysis that should be expected of a GIS: spatial searches, data joins, buffering and banding, producing layouts, charts and tables, the ability to edit maps, to use a digitizer and to interact with a GPS receiver. In addition, the product benefits from being from the same Caliper stable as TransCAD, well-known in North America as transportation planning software. From this, Maptitude inherits a number of routing and network tools.

In any case, Caliper appears not to regard so-called "neogeography" as a competitor but as a resource to be made available to users. This new release of Maptitude includes a Google Earth toolbox that permits Google Earth to show the same study region as one in Maptitude, to import Google Earth imagery into Maptitude or, reciprocally, to export a map to Google Earth. All are press-of-button operations. A link to open source data is provided by an add-in (free from Caliper's website) that allows the user to download map data from OpenStreetMap and also from GeoNames.

While Caliper is right to describe Maptitude as a "high end" product, there are still some features absent which are available in (more expensive) rivals. First, Maptitude is solely a vector GIS, albeit one that supports the import of raster based imagery. A consequence is that some of the map algebra and local function (i.e. neighborhood) operations that are present in some other packages are unavailable here. Nevertheless, Maptitude uses vector grids and TINs to build digital elevation models, to interpolate elevation at a point location, to undertake visibility analysis, to draw elevation profiles, to create contours, to draw pseudo-3D maps and to find the shortest path over a terrain.

Maptitude also lacks methods of statistical analysis that go beyond simple description of columns of data. Global and local regression analysis is missing, as are various types of geostatistics. Point pattern analysis is really limited to the use of density grids. There are no simulation tools of a cellular automata or agent-based modeling type.

However, it may be better to regard such functions not as missing, but as not required. Indeed, the impression gained from using Maptitude is that Caliper knows its audience well. What we have is a product that is well designed for the business user, especially, but also for anyone who wants to extract knowledge and meaning from geographical data without being bogged down by the intricacies of geographical information science. In this regard, the user's guide is extremely well written, introducing the various aspects of the software in a clear and suitably concise manner, and supplemented by 60-second tutorials that aid understanding and show how to get things done.

I will continue to use Maptitude as my everyday GIS. This new release still lacks a complete Windows makeover but has an improved interface, offering better display management, enhanced mapping tools and features and new geographic analysis tools, including "desire lines" to visualize flows. Other features extend the types of files supported (Maptitude integrates well with Microsoft Office) and improve the included Developers' Kit, used to customize the software.

In a competitive and diverse market, Maptitude retains its distinctive focus on value for money, good all-around functionality and general ease of use.

Published Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Written by Rich Harris

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