Microsoft MapPoint 2002 Review

By Adena Schutzberg

I first saw MapPoint at Comdex in 1998, several months before it was launched.Everyone in "real GIS" companies was concerned, even if they didn't let on.I was one of them.Though I spent my time listing what MapPoint couldn't do, I was impressed.

MapPoint has since matured.The data included with the product has grown and now rivals that delivered with packages that cost significantly more. The product still fits in that home/small business/business space where the main goal is making maps.

MapPoint will run on Windows 98 or later and requires 410 MB free space for a basic install and 1.1 GB for a full install including all data.The basic install runs fine and accesses data from a CD.MapPoint has a MSRP of $249, up substantially from its original launch price of $109 a few years ago.

Let me start off with the bad news: The most exciting feature discussed in the MapPoint 2002 press interviews was the ability to import ESRI shape files and MapInfo data.That was just too good to be true."It is not an out-of-the-box feature but an example of how MapPoint can grow into many additional areas of functionally," notes BJ Holtgrewe, MapPoint Senior Product Manager and Technical Evangelist (from a newsgroup post dated June 10, 2001, and referenced at NAVGLOBE below).What will be available, he goes on to explain, is sample code: "The compiled sample can be used by non-programming end-users or the code freely extended by MapPoint VB developers as desired." The code and an article describing its approach, benefits and limitations is expected "in a very short time."

Now, the good news.This is a nice product.Drawing tools familiar to Microsoft Office applications are laid out along the bottom edge of the program window.A large map area provides plenty of graphics room.Best of all, I managed to do everything I wanted without consulting the help.Not even once!

I started out by testing the new territory creation tools.Territories are built from existing data or by simply drawing on the map to collect units - from states down to census tracts - into groups.The wizard was easy to understand and even provided tips on selecting candidate areas.Once selected, it did take some time for the software to process the territories, but not an unreasonable amount.

I used the data mapping wizard to make a thematic map.To its credit, Microsoft, doesn't use that terminology.The first step indicates symbol style to use (shaded, symbol, pie chart, column, push pin), the second, which data to use (from MapPoint's library or an outside source), and the third, what unit to use (country, state, county, down to census tract). Symbol colors are easily changeable, as are ranges.MapPoint will create an Excel spreadsheet of the data for use elsewhere.

I don't think it could get much easier to get directions from MapPoint. Tell it where to start and where to end.A few whirs of the CD later, and a map and detailed, MapQuest-type directions appear.If the highway construction data is out of date, one click will update it from an on-line repository.There are tools to do scheduling and multi-stop trips, track costs based on gas prices and even predict when you'll need to stop to fill up.I don't think the directions are necessarily better than those available online or from packages like AAA Map'n Go.But Microsoft had to include routing since "what about routing?" was the question heard most often in early demos.

Of the new features, creating a drive time zone was painless.But, the results seemed a bit optimistic.Yes, one can drive from Boston to New Hampshire in an hour, but Boston to New Britain, CT? I think not.To Microsoft's credit, they do explain that zones are approximate and vary based on weather and other factors.Creating a new symbol from a BMP file was painless and took only a few seconds to appear in the symbol picker for immediate use.

I found a single, minor limitation.The background maps keep their same colors and can't be changed.Only "freshly mapped" data, that is, data added on top of the base map, can be resymbolized.

There are a few more things to note about MapPoint and the new Office XP suite, which I do not yet have.Microsoft has removed the old "Microsoft Map" tool that lives in Excel (and is built on MapInfo technology) from Excel XP.There are suggestions that this may "force" lightweight map producers, to purchase MapPoint.On the plus side, Word 2002 and Excel 2002 include a type of geoparsing.That is, if you are in Word, MapPoint will recognize a location word, say "Boston," and offer to insert a map of the location or built a route to or from that location.Conversely, you can "send" the information out to MapPoint to be mapped.I attempted to map a few contacts from Outlook 2000 and MapPoint did well, even mapping the location of a former colleague in Denmark.Despite the integration, MapPoint is not included in any Office Suite.

All in all, MapPoint continues to impress me.At the price, this is a program no school, business, or many homes, should do without.Still, be aware that the strengths here are the available background data and the thematic capabilities.For routing and trip planning, other less expensive packages may be more appropriate.

If you'd like to run your own evaluation, Microsoft is providing 60-day evaluations for $9.95.

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Published Friday, June 15th, 2001

Written by Adena Schutzberg



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