ESRI strengthens Net link

Perhaps not all of ESRI's customers are convinced, but the company itself knows that the future of geographic information systems lies with the Internet.

The latest release of its widely used ArcGIS family of software products — ArcGIS 8.2 — includes several significant extensions designed to make it easier for the products to mesh with other Web-based applications. And ESRI managers promise more for the next full version.

"Some of our users are happy with older versions of the software, and we still turn out a lot of the nitty-gritty enhancements," said David Scheirer, ArcGIS product marketing manager. "But others are definitely looking for more Internet support. Many of our federal users, in particular, have a mandate to make citizen access to government services easier" via the Internet.

Version 9 of ArcGIS will be available sometime next year, Scheirer said, and will tie the desktop GIS client more closely to an organization's Web server.

One of the key enhancements in ArcGIS 8.2 is tighter integration with ArcIMS, ESRI's solution for distributed mapping services on the Web.

ArcIMS 4, released at the same time as ArcGIS 8.2, includes the ability to create a central repository for publishing and browsing metadata via the Internet when it is used with ArcSDE, a gateway for database management systems. Metadata, which is data about data, is used to make information easier to search.

ArcIMS' ArcMap server, an optional extension, allows files created in either the ArcGIS ArcMap application or ArcGIS Publisher to be shared via the Internet.

ESRI also announced support in ArcGIS Desktop for the International Organization for Standardization's metadata standard, adding it to the existing support for the Federal Geographic Data Committee's metadata specification. That means ArcGIS users can now access and read nearly all published GIS metadata, as well as create and publish their own metadata that others can use.

ESRI will develop at least one more version of ArcGIS 8, Scheirer said. It will focus on improving the ability to create topology for GIS features in databases.

ESRI is a clear leader in the GIS market, according to David Sonnen, senior consultant for spatial information management at IDC, but is typically not the first to develop products aimed at new markets.

"Intergraph [Corp.], for example, introduced its first GIS products for the Web around three years ago," he said, "and ESRI has only just started to go in that direction with its newer products. But now we are starting to see people making industrial-strength use of these."

And that should offer a lot more capability for GIS users in the federal government because, as far as software developers are concerned, "no one is close" to ESRI's influence in that market, according to Sonnen.

ESRI also announced Linux support for varied GIS products, including ArcIMS 4, ArcSDE 8.2, MapObjects (Java Standard Edition) and ArcExplorer 4, the newest version of the free GIS data viewer.

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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