ESRI introduces new Internet mapping tool

Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. this month will begin a push in the federal market with a new product designed to make it easier to share maps over the Internet.

The Internet Map Server extension, which began shipping commercially a few months ago, comes as part of ESRI's flagship geographic information system (GIS) product, ArcView, which is available in the federal market through various resellers and off government contracts. ESRI also introduced an ArcView tool for creating 3-D maps.

Internet Map Server will allow agencies to publish maps already stored in their databases as images within a World Wide Web browser. Moreover, agencies will be able to customize the product to allow end users to pan and zoom over map images to select which features they want displayed on a map or to view text that describes the map, according to ESRI.

Numerous agencies could take advantage of the Internet mapping tools, said David Brooks, federal sales representative for ESRI. Military bases, for example, may be able to set up kiosks to allow troops to see on an electronic map where they will be living on base as well as what amenities their housing will have or which parks and schools are nearby.

Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency also could use Internet map serving to access remotely detailed electronic maps of a disaster site while at the site itself, one GIS observer said.

Dennis Peacock, senior computer specialist at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said his agency would like to put many more of its maps online as a service to its constituents -- from residents of HUD housing projects to state and local governments to HUD borrowers.

"All of the maps that we're doing on the desktop, we'd like to do on the Web," Peacock said. "We want to collect -- and it's not just mapping -- we want to be able to view that data by place. We want to be able to see HUD's interest in any congressional district, city or state."

Officials at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which supplies maps to the military and intelligence communities, have made known their intention to share more maps in an Internet-like environment.

But ESRI is aiming for a broad spectrum of agencies, not just those with military missions and high-end hardware, the company said. Internet Map Server is compatible with Intel Corp. 386-based computers and can run on the Microsoft Corp. Windows 3.1 platform as well as Windows 95, according to Brooks. "[Agencies] can take a lot of these old machines and turn them into map machines," he said.

But agencies may want to look before they leap into Internet mapping, said Matthew D. Syrett, owner of New York-based Palimpsest Consulting, an Internet and GIS consulting firm. Such products as Internet Map Server would work better when coupled with an intranet rather than the Internet, Syrett said. "It works great if you just want to sit there and share data over an intranet," he said. "But if your doors are open and people start hitting you, it's really going to be a performance drag."

But Syrett is not discounting the Internet as a good mate for GIS. "It's a great information dispersal tool," he said, explaining that the medium could have a welcome application as a tool to inform the public on community-interest topics, such as the locations of hazardous waste sites.

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