March 4, 2004


More on Trimble Acquisition
A Conversation on the State of GML
Standards: The Way to Take on Number 1?

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More on Trimble Acquisition
I did reach Trimble for comment regarding the lawsuit and later acquisition of TracerNET. I learned that the lawsuit, a patent infringement case, is over and that "after the companies started talking it became clear that working together was the best option and we would be much stronger in the marketplace as a single entity."

I wondered about the reasoning behind creating a new wholly owned subsidiary that combines TracerNET and Trimble's Mobile Solutions Division. The Trimble representative explained that a division and a wholly owned subsidiary are equivalent within the company. Trimble Mobile Solutions, Inc. sits on equal footing with other wholly owned subsidiaries such as Tripod Data Systems (TDS), Applanix, and MENSI, and the company's divisions like Engineering and Construction and Field Solutions.

A Conversation on the State of GML
GIS Monitor readers, and its editor too, are lucky that many technical people read GIS Monitor. I rarely have to poll them for their opinions because they write frequently. I'd like to share three of these letters, all related to my recent article on ESRI's new extensions to ArcGIS that support Web Feature Service (WFS) and Geography Markup Language (GML), and letters it prompted.

These comments are from Martin Daly, Technical Director at Cadcorp, Mark Millman, president of Millman and Associates (who was most recently at Bentley), and Frank Warmerdam an independent "geospatial programmer for hire."

First up, Martin Daly:

"I want to take issue with Bart van den Eijnden's comments on GML in [last week's] GIS Monitor, on two points.

"Firstly, the responsiveness of a single open source developer versus that of a single closed source vendor does not imply that all open source developers or closed source vendors are alike. Or, to use my new favourite quote: 'The collective noun for anecdotes is not 'data.''

"Secondly, while I have the utmost respect for Frank Warmerdam and his body of work, have worked with him closely in the past, and look forward to doing so in the future, he has not, by any stretch of the imagination or by his own admission, developed a generic GML parser. By that I mean a parser that can, upon being given a GML instance document for the first time, and, with no human intervention and no extra configuration files, parse and 'understand' the XML Schema upon which the document is based, finally extracting the GML 'features.'

"Such parsers are not quite as rare as hen's teeth, but close. I know of ours at Cadcorp, and those developed by Galdos, Snowflake Software, and Safe Software. There may be others. I am not implying that Frank could not develop one of these if he wanted to. In fact I am sure that he could should he want to and, as can sometimes be crucial for open source developers, had funding to. It is just that he hasn't so far. The high cost of developing such a parser perhaps explains why they are so rare, why WFSs don't always interoperate, and why a GML 'profile' may be desirable in order to lower the entry barrier to GML parsing.

"Because we at Cadcorp are saying that we can parse any GML 2.1.2 document, we are from time to time sent documents and/or links to WFS requests that don't load into Cadcorp SIS. This is usually a problem with the document itself, or the XML Schema that it is (or often purports to be) based on. It can also be a problem with XML Schema files no longer existing, or not being where they once were. These are perhaps more reasons for a GML 'profile,' this time lowering the barrier for writing GML, rather than for parsing it."

Next up, Mark Millman:

"GML is a vast abstract meta-data language that can be used to describe almost any concept in 2D or 3D (or even 4D) space. The authors have retreated to fundamentals (including building a novel mathematical model for coordinate systems) that are independent of common practice. To this extent it is brilliant. However, the very power of GML is its own downfall. I would suggest that a literary parallel would not be the English language but the Western Alphabet. The idea that GML can act as a universal repository is, from an implementation point of view, very difficult. While accepting the fact that ESRI chooses to implement a narrow GML Profile (essentially the Shape File protocols in GML) the idea that [the company] could have created a reader that would consume any valid GML data set without significant user involvement is a fantasy.

"This problem was openly discussed during the meeting [GML Developer Days] and it was generally acknowledged by the legacy vendors that what was needed was a small subset of GML that they could all agree to support. Even the existing implementers of GML repositories (U.S. Census, Ordnance Survey (OS), etc.) agreed that they could not read each other's data.

"I have great sympathy for the GML effort and believe that it is a valid and worthwhile effort but I have come to believe that, like the OGC itself, [it] may be too late. To be successful standards must come in to being early in the evolution of a new technology. Once a market has matured, and I believe that the GIS market is well past the emergent phase, standards face an insurmountable task of unseating market leaders. This is not specific to GIS, it is just as true for televisions. We still don't have a world standard for televisions! Compare this to computer monitors. The global demand and international manufacturing opportunities for monitors were recognized early enough that vendors banded together to create common standards when the industry was just beginning.

"I sympathize with ESRI on this matter. [The company is] legitimately concerned about supporting an interface that is robust and useable (e.g. not too complex). To this end [ESRI] has chosen to use [its] shape model as the basis for interoperability. My experience tells me that to do more would be a developer's black hole that would significantly detract from the progress of the core product line. This is true not just for ESRI but for all legacy GIS vendors.

"My prediction is that major data providers, including the U.S. Census, OS, and others will create GML data profiles, sometimes with non-compliant extensions (i.e., the OS), and that major vendors and translator folks (like Safe Software) will read and write those profiles.

Finally, Frank Warmerdam:

"I agree with what Martin [Daly] says.

"I just want to stress the point that, while difficult, it is possible to write good, general GML readers. I think software buyers should demand good GML support from their vendors including a sensitivity to the needs of practical interoperability and responsiveness in fixing issues promptly.

"I don't think the issue at hand is one of proprietary vs. open source software. Rather it is about frustration in the face of software vendors who don't seem motivated to achieve practical standards based interoperability in a timely fashion."

Standards: The Way to Take on Number 1?
Ralph Grabowski
reports in his UpFront.eZine that "an official committee was announced [this week] to promote PDF/E, the dialect of portable document format for engineering drawings." The plan is to create an ISO standard by 2006. Members of the committee include Bentley, other CAD vendors, and hardware vendors. Autodesk is not on the list though there seem to be other unnamed members, too. There's an open invitation for participation, so it's not clear who might turn up at the first meeting set for next week in New York.

What's really going on? Here's my guess. As I noted some months ago when pointing out a ten-year-old article about how and why standards appear, this may be a case of "going after number one" via a standards approach. It can be argued (as it was in the article noted above) that one of the goals of standards organizations may be to take aim at the market leader by leveling the playing field either by preventing a proprietary standard from being adopted or creating an "open" one. In the GIS marketplace there are those who suggest that the Open GIS Consortium (for which I consult) was formed with this idea in mind, perhaps among others.

Standards bodies are thought by some to be wholesome, fair, metered approaches to a better world. Others think they are self-serving or worse. That leads to some vendors "wrapping themselves in the standards flag" while others maintain a safe distance from standards development and/or implementation.

From a practical standpoint, the question is, does such "ganging up" on number one work? I can't point to a successful campaign offhand, not that there haven't been attempts in the past and ones that continue on today. Will this committee have a chance at Autodesk's DWF, which is not established as the leader quite yet? I'll suggest that it may have a better shot than others specifically because, as Mark Millman points out above, this corner of the industry is not fully mature. DWF in particular, is still young. Stay tuned.

It seems I was not the only fan of The Powers of Ten film when I was in grade school. Rob Krum from Illinois recalls:

"I remember this short [film] with fondness. There is something about it that really conveys a message that sticks with you. Perhaps the film really talked to the map & math geek that is in all of us. I have recommended this film to many teachers."

And Tom Conroy of Virginia notes,

"I used it when I taught Chem Study Chemistry and AP chemistry back in the mid 70s. I loved it."

Brian Norden filled me in on what he learned in Business 101 regarding wholly owned subsidiaries.

"Another reason for a company to set up a wholly owned subsidiary is to keep liability and finances separate.

"Liability issues would probably be similar to why an individual (or family) sets up a corporation instead of just being a dba ["doing business as"]. If you conduct yourself correctly and something happens, only the assets of the one corporation are at risk."

Points of Interest
Can't Get Enough? The GIS Monitor
website now includes daily postings of Points of Interest. To keep GIS Monitor mailings to a reasonable size, you'll find just "the best of" the week's stories here.

Autodesk Conference Call. Last week's Autodesk conference call to report earnings had little information for those involved in GIS. The good news is that the company is doing well. AutoCAD 2005 will ship March 22 and the vertical products sometime in March and April. Layoffs are underway (I've heard of a few folks in the Infrastructure Solutions Division who have moved on) and more are to come. UpFront.eZine has a nice summary. Oh, and if you want to know how Autodesk is spending its money, there's a full page ad in the New York Times business section this Tuesday touting how Inventor is the best selling 3D design software for the third year running.

Spatial Data Without Maps. While the bulk of what many of us do ultimately involves maps, many queries don't require them-take for example assessor's data. Type in an address (no geocoding required) or a street name and get back the data for that property or that whole street. You can check out Cambridge, Massachusetts data here. Thanks to reader Larry for sharing the URL.

$100 Map for Canada. There's a new $100 bill coming out in Canada in March. On the back is a map of the country. And, to squeeze the big country onto the tiny canvas, compromises had to made. Land areas were moved a bit here or there, mountains were exaggerated, nothing new to cartographers. In particular the team behind it wanted Canada to look like people think it looks, that is, have islands be islands. The new landcover/topographic map is paired with an old map created by Champlain in 1632. Thanks to reader Rob for the tip.

Update on GISCI. An article in the URISA News reports that 80 people are now GISPs. Scott Grams, who I ran into here in Wisconsin, noted that the total now tops 120. Also of interest, the State of Oregon has officially endorsed the GISCI Certification. The Oregon Geographic Council endorsed a plan for state certification last year, that adopts GISCI Certification. The plan goes on to call for any agency or organization that shares data to have a certified individual in charge.

Another LBS Challenge. In last week's mail my business received a flier from one of the national wireless carriers hyping a new GPS-enabled phone. On the cover it notes that GPS tools are $1.50/day. Inside there's a picture of a phone (with GPS highlighted on a menu) and some rate plans. The pricing and requirements for using GPS are documented on the company website - not in the brochure. Further, these requirements are broken down into three categories: correct phone, correct voice service, and correct Internet connection service. And, depending on whether you want directions, individual, or fleet tracking capabilities, these are different. Suggestion: make this simpler!

Underground Mine GIS. The Underground Mine Locator website reveals Ohio's known underground mines, along with potential areas of subsidence. Ohio currently has about a dozen active underground mines. There are 6,600 known abandoned mines, about three-quarters of which have detailed maps. So as far as I can tell, it's an ArcIMS application. If you want to see pictures of the mines, you need an Intergraph ACGM plug-in.

Lost? A little village in rural Donside, west of Aberdeen, Scotland has a big problem. It's sign, bearing it's name, Lost, keeps getting stolen. The solution is to rename it Lost Farm. Lost is from the Celtic word for inn. I hope they don't change the name of Boring, Oregon, where I spent a fun-filled afternoon snapping pictures of Boring Hardware and Boring Middle School. A shout out to my partner in exploration on that trip, and loyal GIS Monitor reader, Melissa, who was married this weekend.

Week in Review

Spatial Data Technologies (SDT) announced business partner agreements with Electronic Data Solutions (Jerome, ID), and CompassTools (Centennial, CO). SDT's CartoPac and CartoPac Forms Builder field software will be integrated with GPS handhelds and other hardware.

Michael S. Renslow has been selected to serve as the new Technical Editor for Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing (PE&RS;), effective March 1, 2004. Renslow is a past president of ASPRS, the publisher of the magazine.

Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions announced its Registered Research Laboratory (RRL) Program has signed the University of Canterbury (Christ Church,? New Zealand) and the University of Queensland Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) Research Laboratory, (Brisbane, Australia). Also, GeoSpace International Pty, Ltd., based in Pretoria, South Africa, will offer all Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions technology, including Z/I Imaging products, to its customers. Finally, IMGS renamed its Team GeoMedia Program to the Intergraph Synergy Program to reflect expanded coverage for Intergraph's overall geospatial focus, including GeoMedia(R), IntelliWhere, and G/Technology, with plans for TerraShare and other Z/I Imaging technologies in the near future. The Intergraph Synergy Program supports third-party research, development, and implementation of geospatial solutions based on Intergraph technology.

The Open GIS Consortium (OGC) announced a new membership category, the Small Company Commercial Membership.

The Geospatial One-Stop initiative's portal expanded its resources to include a Lewis and Clark Bicentennial channel that contains valuable data, maps, satellite images, and other information.

The Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) has announced that it has signed a strategic alliance agreement with the Karakawa Foundation, Tokyo, Japan, to strengthen the role of crisis/emergency and risk management in their respective countries.

Contracts and Sales
Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions announced Lansing (Michigan) Board of Water and Light (BWL) has purchased Intergraph's Outage Management System (OMS), based on
InService technology, to interface with its current GE Networks GIS.

Forest Technology Group (FTG) has selected Hitachi Software Global Technology, Ltd. (HSGT) and its Any*GIS solution as core spatial technology for extending their webFRISTMASP service for forest managers, planners, and administrators.

Trimble announced that UNAVCO, Inc., has selected the Company to provide 875 Trimble NetRS(TM) Global Positioning System (GPS) reference station receivers over five years. The reference station receivers will be used as part of the Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) network, a major component of the EarthScope Program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Full Circle Technologies announced that the town of Cortlandt, New York has signed a contract for the company's Web-based VectorEyes product.

Loafer Creek's purchased a Leica ALS50 LIDAR system for use in the managing and monitoring of natural resources.

Algo Vision LuraTech has three software versions of the PdfCompressor that convert scanned color documents into high-compression PDF files. They compress the data using JPEG2000 technology.

GIS Tools has recently released two updates of existing products, released two new products for Census Summary Files 2 and 4, and slashed prices on all its existing products.

CubeWerx has released its WMS extensions for MapInfo 7 and ArcGIS 8. Free demos are available. The one bonus above ESRI's offering is support for Styled Layer Descriptors. Moreover, if used with a CubeWerx WMS, data can be delivered.

Up-to-date aerial photography of New York City is now available online from Getmapping. Says the release: "The data was captured from a specially-equipped survey aircraft flying at 5,500 ft and provides on-the-ground pixel resolution of less than 10 inches. The digital images can be downloaded for around $45.00 including taxes."

Kronos is a geo-referenced image acquisition system for mobile mapping or video logging applications. Version 2.1 is now available.

GeoBusiness Solutions and DSR Marketing Systems have released the Retail SPEND estimates for the UK.

Making Community Connections: The Orton Family Foundation Community Mapping Program is a new book from ESRI Press designed to bring teams of teachers and their students together with community members to study problems, resources, conditions, and other matters of interest and importance to the community.

Open Source News

The DSpatial project published release 0.3 of the DSpatial kernel.

SAGA 1.0, a new free GIS, is available. The SAGA API supports grid data such as digital terrain models and satellite images, vector data, and tables.

The Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Philadelphia, will celebrate 100 Years of Geography March 14-19.

William Aymard has been appointed vice president of international business development and sales at Sanborn. In this newly created position, Aymard will be responsible for developing relationships with international clients and creating a global presence for Sanborn. He comes from Space Imaging.

Russell S. Kauffman, PLS, recently joined Woolpert LLP's Hampton Roads, Va., office as a project director.

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