GIS Monitor Aug 2, 2001


-A Controversy Over Free USGS Data Distribution in the US
-Intergraph Q2 Results and…a New Lawsuit Against Intel
-eWeek Takes the Business Software Alliance to Task

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Many GIS users are recipients of the US government’s choice to provide, free of charge, spatial data over the Internet. The USGS is the agency responsible for providing this service. Until recently, the USGS itself was one of several websites that provided different types of data to download. Now the USGS has determined it’s not effective for the agency to host all of the downloads for digital data. Of particular interest to many users are digital elevation models (DEMs), typically large files used for 3D visualization and analysis.

The USGS, for now, points seekers of those files to one commercial vendor, GIS Data Depot. Downloads are free, but as tests by Directions Magazine show, very slow (2.36 and 2.57 kilobytes per second). GIS Data Depot does offer premium service, providing for a bigger chunk of bandwidth and faster downloads, for a fee. Also, GIS Data Depot executives note that a new T-1 line is being installed to speed up downloads; it should be up and running in a few weeks.

USGS expects to have other sites host their data so that GIS Data Depot will not have a monopoly. GIS Data Depot is a USGS “partner.” Beth Duff, a computer specialist with the USGS in Washington, DC, confirms that plans are in place for the data to be available on ESRI’s Geography Network, though the data may not be free.

There is another twist to the story. USGS is in the process of updating DEMs to correct some minor errors involving bounding rectangles and origins. The “new” DEMs are delivered in a “new” flavor of Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS) called decimal meters, which allows for greater accuracy of elevations. This is good news for those looking for better data, but bad news for many users. Few software packages support “old” SDTS, let alone this new flavor. The “new” version is supported by ESRI’s ArcInfo 8, Manifold 5, and Safe Software’s FME conversion tools. USGS is trying to stay away from developing software converters and focus on data.

The late Sol Katz of BLM provided free tools to use USGS data, something many users came to count on for day-to-day work. Someone may need to pick up where he left off.

I don’t think that private hosting of public domain data is necessarily a bad thing. It does cost money to buy and manage huge servers and provide bandwidth for downloads. Still, I’d like a few choices of where to go; competition can only improve service. And, if a public or non-profit organization could provide yet another option for downloads, that’d be nice, too.

As for SDTS as a transfer standard, it just didn’t catch on. With new data sharing options like GML coming along, the fate of SDTS is uncertain.

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This was a “challenging quarter” for Intergraph. Consolidated results include $128 million in revenues; overall revenues dropped $16 million over last quarter. The poor results are blamed on the slow economy causing the company to reset expectations for the next few quarters to match this quarter. Instead of cutting staff or products, to force enhanced profit, the company will keep things where they are.

Sales and marketing costs went up in Q2 in part because 3 of the verticals held their user group meetings. Debt was reduced by $12 million. Loans have been renegotiated to lower costs. Excess building space and land is on target for sale – about $30 million worth. The plan is to generate cash in Q3, but Taylor does not expect to sell buildings and real estate that quickly. Leasing is more likely in the short term. The company is pleased that it restructured last year so there are no reorganization costs this year.

PBS – process and power: $27.9 million, $2 million below Q1; Q3 is expected to be about the same, though 2001 revenues should be up $4 million. Service business is growing in this area, but still not bringing in significant revenue.

IPS – public safety/communication: $29.4 million, even with Q1; Q3 expected to be flat. There is a healthy backlog of $60 million. Utilities and communications are slowing with the worldwide market. The full year projection is being lowered $10 million.

IGS – government solutions: $31.7 million revenue, $6 million below Q1. This quarter saw $41.2 million in new orders, creating an $85 million backlog. Services are growing fast as hardware and maintenance revenues fall.

IMGS – mapping/GIS: $29 million in revenue is under quarter plan, but the division is ahead of plan to date. This segment is early in its transition to an independent business. Q3 is expected to be a bit above this quarter. Russian contracts are being held up in contract issues, so those have not begun to bring in revenue. The current economy has been tough for the “business process improvement” arena, which is where Taylor sees this division. Once the economy rebounds, Taylor is confident IMGS will bounce back.

Z/I Imaging – imaging: $12 million in revenue, up 7% over last quarter.

Also discussed in the conference call was Monday’s filing of a second lawsuit against Intel. This one is separate and distinct from Intergraph’s suits filed in Alabama. This one, filed in Texas, addresses Intel’s alleged infringement of two patents that define key aspects of parallel instruction computing. Intergraph filed for the patents in 1993. The technology, Intergraph asserts, is used in Intel’s IA-64 EPIC, which is at the heart of the new Itanium chip Intel is launching commercially this summer.

Decisions in favor of Intergraph in the first case have led some to speculate on a possible settlement of that lawsuit. It’s not clear how this new case will affect that option. The first lawsuit seems to have helped bolster Intergraph’s stock price and general mood. Some suggest that if one lawsuit helped a little, a second may help further.


The Business Software Alliance, BSA, helps members flush out unauthorized users of its software. Some of the biggest names in software are on the membership roles, including Microsoft, Autodesk and IBM, and some smaller ones, such as Bentley. An eWEEK investigative article suggests that the BSA is using scare tactics to prompt software sales. Letters directed to CEOs suggest that the BSA has been tipped off about non-compliance at the recipient company and offers a 30-day “truce” during which the company can clean up its act. The BSA monitors the campaigns effectiveness by looking at software sales in the target city. As you might expect, sales do spike during combined letter- writing and radio campaigns.

Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement for the BSA, dismisses the suggestion of future audits by noting "We don't visit any of these companies. The ones getting the letters are not under investigation."

Still, there is backlash from many recipients of these mass mailings. Some feel that member companies are not treating customers right and chose to “change out” software from, say, Microsoft to that of another, less aggressive vendor. Others take the opportunity to explore open source software where licenses are typically free.

Having worked for several software companies, I feel strongly that vendors should be paid for their products. One of the changes in the industry--especially in the CAD/GIS fields--, that creates the need for this type of aggressive piracy tracking, is the mass marketing of software. Not so long ago, even 10 years ago, my Autodesk dealer knew exactly how many licenses we had because he was pretty much the only source of them. Now with the reseller model changing, the shift to direct Web sales from the developer, those relationships, and the trust they created, are nearly gone. I think it’s easier to take advantage of a large faceless corporate entity than a small business around the corner.


-A article last week noted that several very large companies are incorporated on very small islands, mostly for tax purposes. Of them, two were GIS related: Schlumberger is incorporated in the Netherland Antilles; the information business now called SchlumbergerSema is based in New York. Garmin is based on the Cayman Islands.

-Verizon this week joined AT&T; Wireless Services Inc, Cingular Wireless LLC and Nextel Communications Inc to request permission to “miss” the October 1 FCC deadline for geographic tracking of cell phone calls for emergency services. VoiceStream already has permission to delay its rollout. Verizon has decided that the network-only plan it originally chose (tracking location using its own towers) won’t be the best choice and must be integrated with GPS. Most other large carriers are choosing the combined route. It’s expected that the FCC will grant extensions. US consumer LBS services providers should prepare for a bit of a delay.

-“.us” the United States geographical domain (like “.za” for South Africa, “.ie” for Ireland) is not in wide use. Last Friday marked the end of bidding for managing that domain, though many suggest the bidding process was too limited. The administrator of the domain is likely to make quite a bit of money.

-At the end of August, one of the last remaining free Internet providers, will end the freebies. Instead, Kmart-owned BlueLight will offer $8.95/month unlimited service. The company claims more local access numbers than rivals Juno and NetZero.

-After the story a few weeks ago about a Connecticut man being fined for speeding based on GPS tracking, the “positive” side of tracking should get equal time. This week in San Antonio a stolen taxi was tracked and the alleged thief arrested.


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