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Product Review: MapInfo Professional Version 8.0

Monday, July 11th 2005
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MapInfo Corporation
One Global View
Troy, New York 12180
Tel: 518-285-6000 or 800-FASTMAP
Fax: 518-285-6070

MapInfo Professional version 8.0 is the latest release of MapInfo’s flagship desktop location intelligence software product. MapInfo released three versions (7.5, 7.8, 7.8.1) between this version of MapInfo Professional and my last review of the 7.0 version. The enhancements in MapInfo Professional 8.0 center on three key value themes.
  • Increased support for organizational needs
  • Enhanced interoperability and data access
  • Advances in usability and productivity
To get users started, MapInfo is offering five free Web-based training lessons to each user in North America. Once a customer registers, they receive five vouchers which can be redeemed for any five lessons on MapInfo’s online training website. The lessons will be available to the user for a period of one year.

Enterprise Installation and Support for Organizational Needs
MapInfo continues to receive the Microsoft Logo Certification for its latest product release. MapInfo Professional 8.0 was tested by VeriTest and passed all required tests for Microsoft Windows XP certification for the Professional and Home XP versions. MapInfo Professional is also compatible with Windows 98 SE, Windows 2000 SP4 and Windows NT 4.0a SP 6a.

MapInfo Professional has added support for Windows 2003 Server with Terminal Server to allow any member of the group Users to be able to use MapInfo within a Terminal Services session. The Terminal Services feature is essential to the operation of the Citrix Access Infrastructure. I didn’t have a Windows 2003 Server with Terminal Server so I wasn’t able to test out these enhancements, so I am just describing the enhancements from the user documentation. The installation procedure for MapInfo Professional has been modified to detect when the user is installing MapInfo Professional locally in a system running Windows 2003 Server with Terminal Services. The installer will add the necessary files and components to the Windows 2003 Server. When a user connects for the first time to the Terminal Services computer and runs MapInfo Professional, a user configuration process begins to copy the per-user files needed to run MapInfo Professional.

Interoperability and Data Access
MapInfo Professional supports the Oracle Workspace Manager, which was first introduced in Oracle 9i and enhanced in Oracle 10g, which permits version-enabled tables within Oracle databases. I did not have access to an Oracle database, so I can only describe the enhancements from the user documentation. MapInfo Professional takes advantage of Oracle’s Workspace Hierarchy to maintain separate versions of the same database table in different workspaces. This allows users to work independently of the source tables. The Oracle Workspace Tools command on the Tables menu includes options to enable and disable Table Versioning within MapInfo Professional. Each versioned table includes the following versioning options: None, With Overwrite and Without Overwrite, that tracks table and timestamp changes made to all rows in a version-enabled table.

Version-enabled tables can be opened in MapInfo Professional using the File-Open DBMS Table option. The Filtered Tables button allows the user to specify the types of tables to display in the Open DBMS Tables dialog box. MapInfo Professional provides two options in the Oracle Workspace Tools to synchronize changes between the parent workspace and the current workspace. Merge Table allows the user to update changes in the current workspace to the parent workspace. Refresh Table allows the user to update the current workspace with changes made to the parent workspace. One of the new capabilities of Oracle 10g is the ability to view record by record values in a conflict resolution dialog and make record level decisions on which value to keep. The Resolve Conflicts dialog box provides a setting to resolve inconsistencies between the tables when the user attempts to merge or refresh conflicting data. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1. Resolve Conflict Dialog Box. (Click for larger image)
MapInfo Professional has added new functionality for features obtained from Web Feature Services (WFS) and Web Map Services (WMS). The Web Services Preferences (see Figure 2) from the Option menu provides access to modify WFS and WMS timeout values, Pixel Limits and Proxy Server settings. The WFS and WMS timeout values allow the user to control the waiting time to connect to the WFS and WMS maps and to limit the size of the maps that are received. The WMS GetMap Pixel Limits allows the user to control the height and width in pixels to retrieve the highest resolution image from the WMS server. The higher the resolution of the image, the longer it can take to retrieve the image from the WMS server. WMS servers do not report their pixel limits so there may be some trial and error involved to obtain the highest resolution image from a WMS server. One way to get the highest image resolution from a WMS server is to enter a high value (i.e. 5,000) which often results in getting the highest image resolution the server can provide. Timeout values and pixel resolution can be set individually for each server when a user opens the Web Service dialog box and clicks the Servers button and the Edit button to override the WFS or WMS Server default settings.

Figure 2. Web Services Preference dialog box. (Click for larger image)
MapInfo Professional has been configured for use with a proxy server to ensure the authentication requests from the proxy server are handled correctly. By default, MapInfo Professional uses the local system LAN settings as the default proxy server settings. The Web Services Preferences dialog box allows users to set a different proxy server if the IP address and port number of the alternate proxy server is known. As a result of these settings, users are prompted for a user name and password when they use the Internet to access the WMS or WFS features.

Usability and Productivity Enhancements
The latest version of the software includes new functions to improve data creation and editing of map features. MapInfo increased the per object node count limits of features within the latest release. The size limit increases the number of nodes permitted for regions, polylines and multipoints to 134 million nodes per geographic object. The number of polygons allowed in a multipolygon region and the number of polylines in a multiple segment polyline have also been increased. MapInfo Professional added functionality to create orthogonal polygons, which have right angle line segments in their geometry. The new function is constrained to 45 degree increments, but the slope of the 45 degree angle is relative to the slope of the last line segment rather than to a horizontal slope. This new function is useful when you have to draw perpendicular lines to existing polylines rather than horizontal to the map.

The Stream Digitizing Auto Node function was added to automatically add nodes along a route being traced based on the tolerance settings specified in the Map Window Preferences. Insert styles for point, line and polygon objects can now be defined and saved on a per table basis. This new feature allows the user to define a table-based insert style that is used to add new features to an editable table. MapInfo Professional now includes support for M and Z values when a user opens a shapefile with these field values. The M and Z shapefile values can be queried or used for analysis in MapInfo Professional.

The software includes enhancements to streamline Thematic Mapping capabilities. MapInfo Professional added 24 new thematic templates to the latest version. It also includes a new function that allows users to create bi-variant thematic layers with transparent patterns. This function is useful if you want to display two different thematic variables on your map at the same time. Users can create a bi-variant map by creating two thematic maps of the same layer, but the second layer should be created using a transparent style with lines or dots for the Range type. Normally, this thematic layer would cover the first thematic layer. The user can customize the legend’s range style by unchecking the Replace Layer Style option in the Customize Range Styles dialog box for the transparent range layer. This enables the spacing between the lines or dots to be transparent, allowing the thematic layer under it to be drawn on the map. (See Figure 3)

Figure 3. Bi-variant thematic legend map. (Click for larger image)
The Custom Legend Label Order allows users to change the sort order of Individual Values Thematic Legends. In previous software releases, users could only sort the thematic legend in ascending or descending order. By selecting the Custom radio button in the Legend Label Order and pushing the Order button, users can then move entries up or down within the list. (See Figure 4) Changing the order of the legend entries will not change the color scheme of the individual entries that were set up when the thematic legend was created. Users can change the color of individual entries by pressing the Styles button. Another enhancement added to the Thematic Mapping capabilities is the Swatch Size radio buttons. The Swatch Size allows the user to change the size of the squares that display the color of the legend entries within the thematic legend.

Figure 4. Customize Legend Sort Order Legend. (Click for larger image)
The Legend Window has been enhanced to align frames in a thematic legend and to align titles within frames in a thematic legend. Users can control the number of columns or rows in the Legend Window by changing the properties in the Refreshing Legend dialog box. To open the Refresh Legend dialog box, the user can right-click on the legend window or select it from the Legend menu. The Legend Menu also allows users to Add Frames to the Legend Window from other layers and to change the Legend Properties. Users can also change the number of columns to display in a Legend Frame for a thematic layer by changing the Number of Columns in the Modify Thematic Map dialog box. (See Figure 4 above)

MapInfo Professional has added and improved the functionality of the tools in the Tool Manager. The Delete Duplicate Column Values in a table is a new tool that deletes duplicate records from a table while retaining the map objects. The Workspace Resolver tool is a new tool that helps the user open workspaces when the tables referenced in the workspace have been deleted or changed locations. The Workspace Resolver tool works independently of the File-Open Workspace menu, meaning users will have to add the tool when a workspace doesn’t open from the File-Open Workspace menu. The tool can perform a search and replace for the missing table or it can open the workspace without the missing table. Figure 5 shows an example of the output message from the Workspace Resolver tool when it was unable to locate a table that I had deleted.

Figure 5. Workspace Resolver Tool message. (Click for larger image)
The Universal Translator tool has been upgraded to allow translation to and from MapInfo .tab files into MicroStation version 8 and all AutoCAD versions to release 2005. The Geographic Tracker tool has been upgraded by Blue Marble Geographics to include USB and serial support for the Garmin proprietary interface and increased the maximum baud rates for a serial connection. The Sync Window tool has changed some of the toolbar buttons and creates a way to control adding and removing embedded legends.

The Distance Calculator tool includes new options to calculate distances from an origin to the nearest point, line or polygon border. For example, a user could calculate the distance from a point layer to the nearest coastline, which could be a line or polygon layer. Figure 6 shows the Distance Analysis dialog box that opens when the Distance Calculator tool is activated. The distance result shown in the lower left corner of Figure 6 is calculated from a point layer of state capitals to the closest Interstate. The result table shows the state capital, nearest interstate and the distance in miles. The result table can be save to a MapInfo .tab file which saves the browser and line features from the origin point to the closest destination.

Figure 6. Distance Calculator Tool. (Click for larger image)

Some of the additional enhancements to improve the productivity and usability of MapInfo Professional 8.0 include the following.
  • The File-Open dialog includes a checkbox below the Preferred View listbox to “Create copy in MapInfo format for read/write,” which automatically saves a copy of .txt, .csv, .wks and .xls files as MapInfo .tab files when opening them. This allows read/write access to these file types.
  • Support for using the mouse wheel to scroll through records in a browser window.
  • A default Find symbol style can be specified in the Style Preferences. The default symbol can be overridden by pressing the Mark with Symbol button on the Find dialog.
  • The Find and Find Selection capabilities have been expanded to search the current map window or all open windows for the Find feature.
  • The Layer Control Dialog Box has been made larger to display more layers and longer layer names. Users can hover the cursor over a layer name to view a tool tip which contains the full layer name and the file path of the layer.
  • The SQL Select dialog box is larger and each box can hold 1,024 characters. Previous version of MapInfo Professional allowed only 256 characters in the SQL Select boxes.
  • The Save Window As command now supports GIF, TIFF LZW, and TIFF CCITTT Group 4 image formats.
  • ASRP 1.2 and ArcGrid formats are now supported.
  • GML 2.1 files can be imported directly into MapInfo Professional.
As I stated in my last review of MapInfo Professional 7.0, the look and feel of MapInfo Professional has been the same throughout the succession of released versions. MapInfo continues to upgrade its key location intelligence product to reflect changes in the operating system environment, database systems and Web services, while adding new and improved functionality requested by users of the product. MapInfo Professional provides a complete list of the new functionality and enhancements, along with instructions to access these functions, in the first chapter of the User Guide that is included with the software.

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