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Straight Talk From the Top

Tuesday, May 16th 2000
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David Maguire is the Director of Products at ESRI. Picked in 1990 to lead the British office of ESRI, David moved to Redlands in 1997 and is now one of four or five people who lead ESRI.

So, what does Mr. Maguire have to tell us about the near future of ESRI software? This is the first of a two part interview conducted this April.

Part Two of this interview is here

About ArcInfo 8 and ArcObjects

Tell me about the new components in Arc-Info 8 – what’s so special about them?

ArcInfo 8 is the biggest GIS project ever undertaken, inside ESRI or anywhere else. It is arguably the biggest COM project ever undertaken; in terms of COM objects, if not in terms of people and lines of code. What's distinctive about ArcInfo 8 is the granularity of the technology. If you look at Microsoft Office, it's a collection of ten to twenty large applications with COM interfaces off them; whereas ArcInfo is actually a collection of about 800 components with interface software off them. So the granularity is an order of magnitude different. [Old] ArcInfo was one of those monolithic systems. There was Arc, Arcplot, Arcedit and Grid, so there were four parts to it, each of which had a whole bunch of commands. If you looked at the Arcplot command reference it was over 2,000 commands. Whereas ArcInfo 8 is a collection of about 750 to 800 individual objects, each with requests which are assembled together through an application framework, which is the ArcCatalog and the ArcMap and the ArcToolbox.

These objects, ArcObjects, are they going to be the basis for all future software development at ESRI?

We haven't put all of our eggs into a single basket. ArcObjects is built using COM technology from Microsoft. We're well aware that in parallel with developments in COM there is also a very strong market and technology lobby to support Java, Java Beans. So we're also building technology based on enterprise Java Beans. Much our strongest, best developed, and largest technology endeavor has been to build COM components to build our software; but in parallel with that we're also working on building Java code; that's really what's at the heart of our internet strategy.

On COM and Java

Please elaborate on the different technologies you are implementing now.

My thinking on this is that ESRI has really got three major things going on right now. We've got attempts to build high performance interactive desktop and client server GIS; that's our COM technology for ArcInfo 8 and other, associated products. Our second technology strategy is harnessing the power of the internet in GIS. We've been doing two things. We've been building an internet-based infrastructure and also building some services and clients that work inside that infrastructure. That's our enterprise Java Bean technology, and ArcIMS is the principal product which expresses our work in that area. And then the third effort is server-centric GIS. That's pulling together the work from ArcSDE and also some of our Arc-IMS stuff.

So I think in the long term I'd really see ArcIMS as being an infrastructure or glue, which allows us to glue distributed users and remote systems together in an enterprise using HTTP and XML as a messaging system to allow those two systems to communicate efficiently.

So you’re saying that ArcIMS is all Java?

It's all Java. We've built Java infrastructure for interfacing to Java servers and servlet technology which runs on the server side and supports request brokering and interfacing to other systems. And we've built enterprise Java Beans which run on the client side to create Java applets or in fact a Java-based standalone application which runs on the desktop.

There has been a lot of hype about ArcIMS – how much of it is real?

ArcIMS is a product out of the box, it's an integrated solution allowing someone to build a complete scalable internet GIS system.

Our role is to build a generic application which most people can use out of the box; and to support extensibility for people who want to go beyond that or to do things in different areas, in different ways. To me the really exciting thing about this is that we've already started, and this will be a big push for us in the next twelve months as we integrate this all together. So that you will be able to have, for example, ArcView 8 on the desktop, talking across the internet to an ArcIMS server, which is running ArcMAP at the back; and the whole thing will work together.

On ArcInfo 8.0.2 and 8.1

Wait! ArcView 8? Tell me more about the upcoming software releases.

ArcInfo 8.02, which includes ArcSDE 8.02 as well [is currently shipping]. We fixed well over 500 bugs, added better internationalization support for double byte character support and things, we ported to Windows 2000, and we did a few other bits and pieces that were never quite ready for 8.01.

[In a separate conversation, David confirmed that some pretty serious performance issues existed in version 8.0.1 when it comes to handling coverages, and assured me that these have been addressed in version 8.0.2.]

The next big ArcInfo 8 effort is ArcInfo 8.1. The goals of this project are twofold. One is that we want to enhance the platform to support some more fundamental data types. This would include geocoding, linear referencing (dynamic segmentation), and also making some more extensions to the geodatabase to support improved object based editing and some other things. Another case in point would be ArcSDE ported to work on Informix and DB2. And the image stuff, too, [will be] in SDE.

We want to co-release [extensions] with 8.1. GeoStatistical Analyst should be out earlier, with 8.0, as will ArcFM Water. And then at 8.1 we also plan to add the next generation of 3D Analyst and the next generation of Spatial Analyst. The idea is to merge together Grid and Spatial Analyst; and to merge together TIN and 3D Analyst. These will be supersets of the pairs of systems based on our COM technology and integrated completely with ArcMap and ArcCatalog.

That will ship this year. Definitely.


In Part Two: the future of ArcView and much more.

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