GIS Monitor Aug 23, 2001
- Proprietary is Not a Dirty Word
- A New Consortium in the Making
- Mapping Cell Phone Dead-Spots
Departments: Points of Interest, Week in Review, Back Issues, Advertise,
PROPRIETARY IS NOT A DIRTY WORD
The term “proprietary” has gotten a bad rap in the technical world in
general, and in the GIS world in particular. It implies close-minded,
greediness and to some, an attempt to rule the world. But are those
I suggest they are not. According to the American Heritage dictionary,
“proprietary” means: “exclusively owned; private: a proprietary hospital.”
According to The Free Online Dictionary of Computing, it means, from a
marketer: “superior; implies a product imbued with exclusive magic by the
unmatched brilliance of the company's own hardware or software designers”
and from hackers and users, “inferior; implies a product not conforming to
open-systems standards, and thus one that puts the customer at the mercy
of a vendor who can inflate service and upgrade charges after the initial
sale has locked the customer in.” The Jargon File adds: “Since the coining
of the term open source, many hackers have made a conscious effort to
distinguish between `proprietary’ and `commercial’ software. It is
possible for software to be commercial (that is, intended to make a profit
for the producers) without being proprietary. The reverse is also
possible, for example in binary-only freeware.”
So, is proprietary good or bad? Clearly, it depends on which side of the
fence one stands. I was recently chastised for suggesting that ESRI’s
software is proprietary. It certainly is, according to all of the
definitions above. So are products from MapInfo, Intergraph, Smallworld,
Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk and so on. A week or so later, I noted the use
of proprietary, meaning superior, in a press release: “Laser Technology,
Inc. manufactures and markets laser-based speed and distance measuring
instruments, which utilize proprietary technology developed by the
To add to the confusion, many GIS companies like to call themselves
“open.” What does that mean? According to Webopedia, in the computer
industry, “open” is the opposite of “proprietary.” Webopedia goes on to
note, “Increasingly, proprietary architectures are seen as a disadvantage.
Consumers prefer open and standardized architectures, which allow them to
mix and match products from different manufacturers.”
This highlights the complexity of this issue. “Open” means published and
available to all. In the case of ESRI, the shape file format is owned by
ESRI, but is published for all to see. Further, just because source code
is published, making a product open, does not mean that the product uses
standardized architectures and can “plug and play” with others. GRASS is
an open source GIS; it does not, at this time, implement any OpenGIS
Some vendors play the Open GIS card another way: they will suggest that
since their products implement OpenGIS Interface Specifications, they are
automatically “open.” Sorry, the product source code is STILL not
published, but with the OGC interface in place, the product can, in
theory, “plug and play” with other products (proprietary or not) that
implement that same interface. This is an important distinction for the
buyer/user to understand.
The bottom line? From my perspective, it’s time to go back to basic
questions about software. Does it technically do what you need? Does the
product interoperate with the products that you need it to? Can it share
data with other products that you need it to? If so, buy it. If not, try
If an open source GIS is essential, begin your search at the Free GIS
Project. As they put it, think of “free” as in “free speech.”
I’ll be the first to step forward and say that ALL of the software on my
computer is proprietary. All of the GIS software I’ve ever used is
proprietary. All of the CAD software I’ve ever used is proprietary – with
one notable exception: IntelliCAD, which in the past few years has gone
A NEW CONSORTIUM IN THE MAKING
I saw a fleeting reference to a new initiative focusing on enabling local
governments to share resources via common distribution agreements. I was
pleased to see well-established GIS people behind the proposal and a
connection to the GeoData Alliance. The new project’s tentative name: Open
Now, let’s start with what this project is NOT about. This is not about a
new data format. This is not about getting software to work together. This
IS about starting a dialog to find mechanisms for local governments to
share data using standard types of agreements. The hope is that public and
private organizations will “buy in” and help make data more widely, and
more consistently, available.
Further, the potential mishmash of differing agreements might well
preclude some of the data and services sharing envisioned by groups like
the Open GIS Consortium, and those attempting to implement local, county,
state, regional and even federal e-government solutions.
In the past few weeks I’ve seen several queries about how to set up a data
distribution agreement for local governments to encourage sharing, limit
liability and basically “do it right.” Clearly, there is a need to discuss
such issues, and I hope this group, or whatever it turns into, can make
some headway. The “kickoff” for this project is planning in connection
with the National GeoData Forum meeting at the beginning of November in
MAPPING CELL PHONE DEAD-SPOTS
Anyone who’s used a cell phone knows the dangers of “dead-spots,” those
small or large areas where service winks out or even drops your call. Now,
there is a movement afoot to map them, if not erase them entirely.
Anthony Weiner, a representative from New York, introduced a bill last
year, and a similar one this year, requiring the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) to collect dead-spot information from users and then map
them by geographical area and carrier. Ideally, then, consumers could see
which carriers could maintain the signal on their route to work or at
their vacation home.
Weiner argues that consumers are now powerless to compare one service to
another since virtually no carriers allow a “test drive” of their
products. He also expects that once information is public, providers will
work to “fill the gaps” to distinguish themselves from competitors.
The carriers, of course, hate the idea of government intervention and feel
that providing more spectrum is a better road to solving the dead-spot
problem. A Sprint spokesperson notes that mapping such spots is difficult
since it depends on time of day, weather, the network capacity and the
capability of local landline carriers who complete the calls. Agilent
Technologies' John Catlin says there is never 100% coverage anywhere,
rather 90% is more like it.
It is possible, of course, for consumers to build a database on their own.
Given a web page we could mark dead-spots on a map and key in the carrier
as an attribute. Some online GIS hosting service want to give it a try?
POINTS OF INTEREST
-GPS add-ons for handhelds are still “in progress” according to a review
at Forbes.com. The $200+ versions are more complex to use than the $100
- U.K.-based Morpheous now sells Geodys, a modern “speed camera detector.”
The product holds a database of roadside speed camera locations, and armed
with a GPS mounted in the vehicle, beeps when the vehicle nears a camera.
Incentives are available for those who report new cameras to keep the
- "Lost in the U.S.A." was to be a WB network reality-adventure series
involving a cross-country race among four teams of contestants.
Unfortunately the studio producing it, Artists Television Group, has been
shut down and the decision has come to scrap the show. NBC will pick up
the slack with its own “Lost,” a reality show about being, well, being
- One of the eight arrested in connection with “rigging” a McDonald’s game
is from – ironically enough -- Fair Play, S.C.
- If you ever wondered why ESRI tends to be in so many different
industries, the answer may lie in their success in pulling people from
those very industries to spearhead efforts in specific markets. Case in
point: the current Associated Press Director of Graphics, Kris Goodfellow,
just joined ESRI, no doubt, to work on GIS and journalism.
- This week’s award for clever marketing goes to ADCi. Their e-mail is
straight to the point on a timely issue: “ADCi has your solution for
troublesome formats -- at just $25 per quad!” For that amount they will
deliver 1:24K DEMs in the format of your choice (DWG, DGN or SHP formats)
in the coordinate projection and datum of your choice. These are built
from the “old” no longer available USGS data. If you’d like files built
from the “new improved” data, they can provide those on a custom basis.
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