MapPoint 2002 Review
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
Importing ESRI Too Good to be True
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.�
Easy to Use
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
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.
Fig. 1 The
interactive process of building territories uses a simple dialog.
(click to enlarge)
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.
Fig. 2 A thematic
map of population was built from population data delivered with the
(click to enlarge)
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.
Directions Could Be Better
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.
Fig. 3 A one-hour drive time zone built around Westford, MA
(click to enlarge)
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.
Odds and Ends
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.