Lighthouse delivers maps from many sources

Microsoft Corp.'s .Net initiative relies on open standards, which ensures that Web services built under .Net are platform-independent. That means a .Net Web page can employ services provided by various Web sites, eliminating the need for someone to write code for all of those services.

The Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service has built a Web page it calls the Lighthouse portal that allows users to build an image of soil conditions in any area of the country, without having to query databases one at a time, as in the past. Through the portal, users simply describe the final image they want and a call is made to Microsoft's TerraServer.Net service, which then pulls images from a SQL Server 2000 database and automatically converts them into a single, correctly tiled image that is converted to a JPEG file for transmission to the Lighthouse page.

Microsoft's TerraServer, one of the world's largest online databases, provides free public access to a huge store of photographs and maps of the United States. Lighthouse provides access for up to nine databases.

Producing such end-user images would be possible through other means, said Steve Ekblad, Lighthouse project manager, because their components can be derived from individual sites. But that would still mean the conservation service would have to deal with the data itself, "and it could take weeks or months to read the relevant data from [computer] tapes and other media."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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