MapInfo software ups accuracy

MapInfo Corp. this month released a new version of its desktop geographic software that should enable federal users to produce maps that convey data more accurately.

The product, MapInfo Professional 5.0, comes only nine months after the company's last release of the product, which is used among federal agencies such as the departments of Defense and Justice as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Chief among the new features added to the product is what company officials call "continuous thematic shading." The new feature allows users to disregard political boundaries when defining how various types of data— for example, the percentage of Spanish-speaking residents— are distributed throughout a geographical region, according to company officials. They said this approach will result in a more realistic depiction of the data.

With older versions of the desktop electronic mapping software, users can shade political areas— such as states, counties or ZIP codes— that fall into a certain data category. A researcher might use blue, for instance, to highlight all counties in which a certain percentage of residents speak Spanish.

But Jules Moyaert, product marketing manager for MapInfo, said that older method has its shortfalls. For example, a researcher might designate two large counties as having a low percentage of Spanish speakers when, in fact, a large Spanish-speaking community straddles both counties.

Moyaert described data as "not something that stops at the boundary" of a ZIP code or a state, so MapInfo Professional 5.0 lets users incorporate a grid-based approach into their map-making, ignoring political boundaries that might blur or dilute the data on which they are focusing. The grid approach lets users create maps that disregard political boundaries, in much the same way that weather maps in newspapers do. "We know that federal customers are dealing with data that are sometimes very often going beyond political boundaries," Moyaert said.

Frank Changa, a geographic information systems specialist with FEMA, said he agrees that boundary-free thematic shading is useful. "It allows you to be more accurate, and there's flexibility in there too," he said.

David Sonnen, president of Integrated Spatial Solutions Inc., a Blaine, Wash.-based GIS consulting firm, said incorporation of the shading feature is new to the desktop market for GIS. "It's never shown up at the desktop level before," he said.

John McCarthy, public-sector sales manager for MapInfo, said he believes government users also will applaud a new feature that enables users to create reports in the widely used Seagate Crystal Reports format. "We have a lot of users out there who have a need to see the data in a report format," McCarthy said.

Other new features include the incorporation of components from MapInfo's SpatialWare middleware product that allow users to tap into GIS databases in real time rather than through a download of the data. The new version also includes updated software for translating data, including computer-aided design data, stored in other popular GIS applications.

Sonnen said the new release should help MapInfo stay in the running with Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., Autodesk Inc. and Intergraph Corp., all of which are competitors with popular desktop GIS products. "It was a necessary release," Sonnen said.

MapInfo is charging $1,295 for the new release. Users of previous releases of MapInfo Professional can upgrade to Version 5.0 for $495, Moyaert said.

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