Product Overview - ArcGIS 9

By Hal Reid

arcgis_9_edited ArcGIS 9.0 is actually not a specific product per se, but rather an umbrella term for products that are developed to move "lock-step" in versioning.

You might also view ArcGIS 9.0 as several umbrellas depending on the size of the installation.If you look at the ESRI diagram below, it is apparent how the umbrella can be sized to fit the needs of the user:

(Source: From the ESRI Web Site)

Jack Dangermond, in a short video clip, explains the several concepts around the new architecture of ArcGIS 9.0.This architecture is identified in this diagram.

(Source: From the ESRI Web Site)

Architecture and Improvements
Mr.Dangermond's narrative explains this architecture in these four topics.

  • Geoprocessing and the use of Models to create the workflow.
  • Faster processing and better annotation.
  • ArcGlobe and 3D Analyst.
  • Interoperability (an ArcGIS extension) and the use of Geodatabases will allow direct reading of approximately 72 formats (this functionality was created in conjunction with Safe Software).
Geoprocessing and the Use of Models
A key feature is the ability to diagram workflows and save them in a manner similar to creating a flowchart in Visio.Of course these can be saved and reused.Below is an example of a model.

(Source: From the ESRI ArcGIS Brochure); (click for larger image)

This type of modeling is subtly revolutionary and can be used in all areas of GIS, and certainly other products.For example, queries can be built using symbols with a fail safe mechanism built in.That is, if the query operator is the wrong one, it will not fit in the diagram.Models can be prototyped to see if they work, then adjusted and tuned for optimal results.The key is visualization of what you want to do.Letting the user see how the flow works visually provides a new dimension to creating workflows, by letting the user create things that work like they work.This automatically extends the functionality of the products that are using visual models.

Faster Processing and Better Annotation
While faster processing is always a nice addition, the better annotation and map output has been approached in two ways.The first is better labeling within the basic products and the second is more functionality (including the better labeling) within Maplex, one of their map finishing products. A very nice feature is the ability to mask whatever is under the label so the label is more visible and the nature of the underlying feature is not disturbed.This includes things like auto font size, auto curve, search and replace and the use of a library of abbreviations to enhance label fit (e.g.blvd for boulevard).

ArcGlobe and 3D Visualization
ArcGlobe is part of 3D Analyst and allows for the following:

  • Display of multi-resolution image and terrain data
  • Support for vector data (e.g., points, lines, polygons, and 3D objects)
  • Conversion of two-dimensional representations to 3D on the fly
  • Support for identify, select, find, and text/labeling
  • Animation functionality that offers a quick and easy way of creating 3D
  • Visualization (with options to export to a video format)
  • Various layer effects such as transparency, lighting, shading, and depth priority
(Source: List from the ESRI Web Site)

Example of Arc 3D showing virtual buildings, trees, cars, traffic cones and an airplane (Source: ESRI web Site); (click for larger view)

Recently, there has been a lot more development from all parts of the GIS and CAD industries in the area of 3D rendering and analysis.It may soon be the case that 3D is the expected way of looking at data.

Interoperability has been a buzzword in the GIS industry for a long time.Generally it has been more concept than reality.In this case ESRI has worked with an outside source to create the ability to directly read almost any common formats.This relationship with Safe Software gives them approximately 72 formats that ArcGIS products can have access to.While this is not usually a consideration for business uses who buy all their data in the format of the products they are using, for governments at all levels who need to interact with other entities data, this can be a big plus.This is one f the ARC Extension products.

The Geodatabase is part of this concept of interoperability, but ESRI's view is wider than just being able to read multiple file formats from competitors and other sources.They see interoperability as part of their ability to connect and extract from disparate data sources via the Geodatabase, which describes the role of ArcSDE.SDE currently supports these databases: DB2, Informix, Oracle and SQL Server.The role of the Geodatabase is to provide the rule for data being posted and extracted from these four databases so that spatial integrity of data is maintained.They identify the functionality in this way:

  • Serve spatial data to ArcGIS Desktop (ArcReader, ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo), to Internet clients through ArcIMS, and to applications developed with ArcGIS Engine and ArcGIS Server.
  • Serve ESRI's file-based data using ArcSDE for Coverages.
  • Manage geographic information in one of four commercial databases-IBM's DB2 Universal Database and Informix Dynamic Server, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server.
(Source: List from the ESRI Web Site)

For their customers, especially large government installations, the ability to connect, post and extract to multiple databases simultaneously is a major consideration. To store spatial vector and raster data in multiple databases requires rules and system-integrated management. This is so that that whatever was processed by ArcGIS and retrieved from one database can be stored in other databases so it can be read by others in the workflow chain and it has the same rules of engagement.
David Maguire, (Director, Products, Solutions and International) who heads the development of ArcGIS 9.0 has said that storing GIS data in a database is fairly trivial.Managing it and maintaining its integrity is much more complex.

Making the ArcGIS 9.0 Smoother
In any product release, the users always would like improvement that make their work transitions through their tasks easier and less complex. John Calkin (ESRI) in his demonstration at the ESRI Users Conference Plenary session identified areas of functionality improvements.Click Here for his list of the improvements.

Enterprise GIS
In addition to the standard desktop products there are three products that together with Arc SDE and the Geodatabases make up Enterprise GIS. These are:

  • ArcIMS
  • ArcGIS Server
  • ArcGIS Engine
ArcIMS has been in use for some time and is the means to distribute data and reports on data over the web.One of their most successful products using this technology has been within the ESRI BIS group and their delivery of demographics, thematic maps, and even customer-supplied data all in a secure web environment.

ArcGIS Server is new and id designed to deliver GIS functionality on the web or across a network.It allows the user to access GIS functionality through their browser.ESRI lists functionality in this manner:

  • Provide browser-based access to GIS.
  • Deliver advanced GIS Web services throughout your organization.
  • Develop custom applications using .NET or Java to meet specific user needs.
  • Integrate GIS and other IT technologies using industry-standard software.
  • Provide centrally managed, multi-user editing capabilities.
  • Perform focused spatial analysis operations on a server.
(Source: List from the ESRI Web Site)

ArcGIS Engine is a collection of objects used to build ArcView, ArcEditor, ArcInfo, and ArcGIS Server.ArcGIS Engine is effectively the replacement to Arc Objects and is intended to be a more robust collection. These objects have been exposed in ArcGIS Engine to allow for custom applications across the enterprise.They are accessible through COM, .NET, Java, and C++.However, on their web site, only Window operating systems seem to be available for ArcGIS Engine development at this time.

Within the context of ESRI's enterprise solution, ArcGIS Engine allows for creating custom applications that draw only upon the functionality needed, rather than carrying the weight of an entire set of functionality that would exist in ArcView or ArcInfo, for example.This is the diagram that ESRI shows for the span of the ArcGIS Engine.

(Source: From the ESRI Web site)

Mobile Computing
This area covers a number of platforms, from Laptops, tablets, PDA and even Smart Phones.The approach to providing this level of distribution is through the web, via ArcPAD and Java applications that run on a Smart Phone.Through ArcIMS and Java all of these devices can be enabled to access enterprise data.

This area is not exactly under the umbrella of ArcGIS 9.0 as ArcPAD is now moving to version 7.0.However, these apps and access from the laptop to the Smart Phone and well integrated into the architecture of ArcGIS 9.0, they just do it in a manner that works with the multitude of mobile devices.This area is on the high interest list for Dave Maguire and he has several interesting applications running on his Smart Phone, beyond just maps and imagery.This will be an area to watch.

As an outside observer and attendee to the ESRI User's Conference, one is struck by the span of the customer base that were using their products. These include Government, Business, Telecommunications, Intelligence Agencies, Education and others.They even had a retail store on the Trade Show floor selling their publications that was far more comprehensive than most Rand McNally retail outlets.This, along with the reach provided by ArcGIS 9.0 and its' enterprise orientation, makes the case that they are supporting enterprise deployment of spatial information technology at all application levels: desktop, server, internet, and developer's tools.

Published Thursday, August 19th, 2004

Written by Hal Reid

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