GIS Monitor May 10, 2001


-Autodesk Outlines GIS Product Upgrades for 2001
-Mobile Commerce: Does it Matter?
-The Value of an Updated Website
-John Estes, Remote Sensing Pioneer
-MapInfo Hustles Votes

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Autodesk will officially announce the new releases of its GIS and land management products on May 15th according to a conference call held last week.

Kim Davis, Director, Marketing and Product Management, GIS Division at Autodesk, made it clear at the outset that the new versions were not geared so much toward new features for task automation, but rather toward integrating business processes and collaboration. The products covered in the call included Autodesk Map 5, Autodesk Land Desktop 3, Autodesk Survey 3, Autodesk Civil Design 3 and Autodesk OnSite Enterprise 2.

Autodesk Map 5 will be built on AutoCAD 2002 and will, of course, inherit all of its goodies. Specific to the mapping side, the product will include:

- a wizard to connect to Oracle 8i Spatial,
- a thematic mapping wizard (like other desktop GIS products have - had for years)
- enhanced import/export
- the ability to view MrSID and ECW format imagery

Of these, the connection to Oracle 8i Spatial may be the most interesting. It's a bit of a "catch up" move since Bentley's MicroStation Geographics supported 8i Spatial last year. Still, Autodesk has a rather complex story to tell about data sharing options for Map users. There are three: the tools included in Autodesk Map for opening multiple drawings and "locking" features, the use of Oracle 8i Spatial and finally, their recently announced GIS Design Server. The Oracle 8i Spatial solution is described as being for those "not ready" for GIS Design Server.

The Land Solutions group joined the GIS Division last year with the hope of tighter integration between the products. Land Desktop 3 is built on Autodesk Map and will include support for still-new LandXML, improved standards management and a new central project data structure.

Autodesk Civil Design adds a Vertical Road Design Editor that incorporates LandXML reports, engineering rules and better interaction between graphics and the tabular editor. There is also enhanced plotting and tighter integration with Land Desktop. Autodesk Survey gains support for Autodesk Land Desktop 3 and an update of TrimbleLink, for integration of GPS data.

Autodesk Onsite 2 updates the mobile platform to include a robust API, a design publisher, server synchronization, a multi-user system, and an enhanced connection to a database. Autodesk positions OnSite against products such as ESRI's ArcPAD by noting that Onsite "integrates live back office data and business systems with mobile field devices."

Note that AutoCAD Map is now Autodesk Map, and Land Development Desktop lost its "development" moniker to become Land Desktop. The former was explained as being important to link the product to the rest of the brand family. I think one of the most important things about Autodesk Map is that it IS built on AutoCAD, so I might have argued to keep the original name. In point of fact, I believe Autodesk is trying to strengthen the Autodesk brand and leave the AutoCAD brand behind. Although I do not recall an explanation of the new Land Desktop name, I believe it's simply to make it "more parallel" with its brothers Architectural Desktop and Mechanical Desktop.

Pricing and availability information are not yet available, but in keeping with tradition, the new products will likely follow the new AutoCAD release by some months. AutoCAD 2002 is expected in Autodesk's Q2, between May and July of 2001.


Mobile commerce has been hyped as a money maker for the coming year. The technology allows users of wireless mobile devices (phone, PDA, pager) to purchase goods and services on the go. This is part of a trend in technology to free you from your geographic location whether you are talking to family members or purchasing cat litter.

Still, there must be a compelling reason that will encourage people to purchase on the run. I think it’s fair to look at the reasons for moving from purchasing books, food or clothes in a store or using the phone, mail or the Internet. Why go to the mall or specialty store, when for a small fee, the goods can be brought to you? Recent hard work by many retailers has actually made it easier to order over the Web than over the phone. Sites are easier to navigate, security is better and many merchants provide discounts for web orders. (The airlines are a good example.) So, what further compelling reason is there for ordering on the road?

Mobile commerce basically extends the options of where the order can be made. I’ll suggest that with cell phones there is already a wide range of locations that allow purchases. Is there a compelling reason to place an order when on a city bus or walking down the street with something other than a phone call? My sense is that the move to wireless purchases from phone purchases will only occur if the former is easier and faster. If wireless buying can safely transmit credit card numbers instead of reading them to an operator over the phone, and provide the product images now available on the web, it might become compelling. Still, according to a Boston Consulting Group report last November, 68 percent of owners of devices with wireless Internet capabilities in the US had never used mobile-commerce services.

Mobile payment from a handheld device is quite another matter. For immediate purchases, I think many people would be happy to use a mobile phone to pay. Buying a soda or movie tickets are good examples. The convenience factor is very high, just as it is buying gas with a credit card at the pump.

Some of the leaders in the online retail world seem to agree. Amazon set up wireless purchasing technology in 1999. A Wall Street Journal Interactive article about Amazon cites $1 million in sales last year from the wireless portal, compared with $2.8 for the entire company. Though still working on mobile commerce, Amazon’s “Amazon Anywhere” initiative has been cut back. Lands End started as a catalog retailer and has made a strong push to the Net. The company has no plans to go mobile at this time.


Analytical Surveys, one of the GIS industries hardest working and, of late, most challenged companies, announced a new website this week. The intent, in part, was to illustrate the “company’s innovative approach to maximizing the role of a corporate web site as a primary communication channel.” That sounded very appealing, basically a “walk the talk” sort of attitude. That made me curious to see the new site.

Like many sites, ASI’s is a work in progress. The flash animation that opens each and every time you enter was not too helpful in distinguishing the company. On a return visit I found the small “skip intro” button in the lower right. The navigation is inconsistent: sometimes links are in the text and other times in a left hand pane. Further, sometimes when you click on links you open a new window, sometimes you don’t. There is a password protected customer area. It’s too bad those just visiting are not provided with at least a description of what this area may hold.

The other innovative communications tools are simple ASP forms that allow a visitor to request information on one of their key services: Implement, Capture, Convert, Maintain, Distribute. I’ll be curious to see this site in six months.


John Estes, professor of geography and director of the Remote Sensing Research Unit at the University of California, Santa Barbara, passed away on March 9 of cancer. He was 61.

Mr. Estes was a leading advocate of remote sensing and spent much of his life using remote sensing, along with GIS to explore earth resources. He worked with NASA, USGS, NOAA and the US Forestry Service and other agencies. In 1999 Mr. Estes received the William T. Pecora Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions as a researcher and as an educator in the use of remote sensing and geographic information systems to study the earth.


I received my MapInfo E-news email today. In addition to encouraging me to upgrade to MapInfo Professional v6.5 and read about the alliance with Motorola, I was asked to vote for MapInfo Professional in the Users Choice Awards. If I did, I would be eligible to win a gift certificate. The blurb didn’t explain the purpose of the vote, or the sponsor.   A MapInfo press release dated May 4 (not released to the wire service, nor those on the press list such as yours truly) explained that “Winners of the Users Choice Award will be selected based on user satisfaction with the submitted product and the impact the product has on the user’s ability to interact with customers. The 2001 Users Choice Awards are sponsored by CUSTOMER Support Management magazine and RealMarket.”

If you look at the voting site you can find other products that are also nominated. I found no other GIS package. Interestingly, it stated that awards are not based on the number of votes but on:

- your SATISFACTION with the product / service, and - the IMPACT the product / service has had on your ability to interact with customers

However, companies are encouraged to pump up their users to vote and are supplied with form letters and guidelines on what they can and cannot say.

I find many of these awards just plain silly. Not only does it put MapInfo up against very dissimilar products like Act!, and RoboHelp but more importantly, who would believe the results knowing the motivation was a prize offered by the sponsoring company!


-DiscoverCast is a company aiming to use existing hardware to enable real-time collaboration over the Internet. Among the industries they hope to serve: distance education and location-based services. Among their early strategic partners: ESRI.

-The first retail Apple store will open in McLean, VA in the Tysons Corner mall – between LL Bean and Ann Taylor. Mac resellers are not pleased with the direct competition while analysts muse how well the stores will fare based on Gateway’s recent closure of38 retail stores last month.


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