Dev


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Since James Posted all his screen shots of ArcGIS Explorer Beta 2 it seems like everyone has been getting all excited about whats going to be in ArcGIS Explorer. At the moment its still in private beta so there have been more questions than answers. However there is a reasonable amount of information posted on the ESRI website about ArcGIS Explorer. You can find it funnily enough in the ArcGIS explorer section. There is an FAQ which should answer a lot of peoples questions, things could still change before release, but it gives a good idea of some of the cool stuff you could do with this. Theres also a couple of videos and a bunch of screen-shots in addition to those shown below.
Reading the FAQ, theres lots of interesting things about ArcGIS Explorer such as support for local data and WMS services, but the thing that i think is most exciting is the extensibility that is available. This applies to both the data and the application.

One of the cool things is being able to publish your own globe and 2D services either commercially or within an organisation. So if the standard imagery is not good enough for you, you could always subscribe to a commercial globe service offering more detailed data, or use a commercial Mastermap service and stream this into the 3D viewer. If as an organisation you are interested in global data, but not necessarily the land based imagery published as default, perhaps you have climate or meteorological data, or Nautical charts or maybe environmental data, you can publish your own 3d globe data across the organisation without relying on the standard published data.

The second area of extensibility is the ability to publish custom tasks, and use the SDK to create custom interfaces to these tasks inside ArcGIS Explorer. The ability to make advanced server based Geo-processing available to the end users is a really powerful way to use ArcGIS Explorer not just for visualisation and pushpin type apps, but to allow users to do real analysis, but still using a simple interface. Things like custom network tracing for utilities networks, routing over non standard data, such a cycle or foot paths, environmental modelling, emergency management and modelling scenarios. All of these as server based tasks initiated by users inputing simple parameters through a task based user interface. I’ve had a quick play with the .Net SDK and there are all sorts of possibilities opened up by this, especially when combined with the support for Geo-processing and models within ArcGIS Sever.

It should be interesting to see what people build with these tools and whether this helps to advance the wider usage of geographic data and services beyond the simple mapping and visualisation that google earth has done such a great job of promoting.

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So far I’ve been using the on-line rich text editor for writing these entries, but I’ve found it sometimes a little slow, and on at least 2 occasions I’ve lost what I’ve been typing in, which is very annoying, Also the spell checker is very limited, you cant add your own words or use a custom dictionary. So i thought I’d look for a simple offline editor, that integrates nicely with the WordPress API. So I’m writing this using the latest Dev edition of Zoundry, and it seems to be pretty good. It can manage the on-line and offline archive of posts and also manage file and image uploads

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It lets you preview your post in the correct style-sheet. It supports track-backs and tags as well. It’s free too, and works with Blogger and obviously Zoundry as well. You don’t have to have a zoundry account. Its currently a beta version, but if your reading this post then so far so good.

Last week we (ESRI (UK)) managed to achieve our MS Gold Certified Partner status. As well as a useful sales and marketing benefit it is also useful in terms of licensing benefits, we get a bunch of VS licenses and licenses for our training suite. We had to go through a few hoops to get it, getting a product windows certified (Productivity Tools) getting some Reference sites from customers, and having a certain number of people MS certified.

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Management here are pretty pro getting people certified, we get a bonus for getting certification, as well as time to study and take the exams, and the company gets the partner points, free licenses and better trained staff.

Although we have a lot of MS dev skills here I think most of our big customers still tend to have solutions based on Oracle at the back end, even if its on windows but often the web bits are .net. There do however seem to be an increasing number of SQL server sites, and i would see that increasing with 2005 and when 9.2 is released with personal and workgroup ArcSDE based on SQL Express.

There are however still a lot of Java based sites especially the bigger websites and there's a hardcore of java programmers here, mostly based in the Newbury office. A couple of them were at Java One, and said that pretty much every demo had to have a google map in it somewhere.

I've decided that Instant messenger is probably my most useful development tool. The current project I'm on has a very distributed development team. The project is managed from our aylesbury office, and we have a development team there, we have another team in our newbury office, as well as a couple of developers in our cambridge office. There is an onsite office at the customer where we typically have several people running workshops or training, then there is a team in redlands working on this project too. Messenger is such a good way to communicate, you don't have to bother people with a call, or create huge long email threads to have a conversation or just to get a simple bit of info that you need there and then. MSN seems to be the protocol of choice, though i know there are a few teams in redlands who use AIM instead. This project would be so much harder without it.

Microsoft Research have released MapCruncher This looks like a great tool for doing georeferencing of data to Virtual Earth data, and then creating a mashup that you can easily publish on a web site. Its starting to introduce some concepts that previously have been the realm of GIS Proffesionals to consumers who want to build simple mapping sites and shouldn't have to worry about the fact that Virtual Earth data is in a mercator projection,or that their image map is not correctly georeferenced.

Dave Bouwmen of Arcdeveloper fame has started a thread on software development processes used by GIS consultancy companies, so I thought I'd describe a little how ours has evolved. Many years ago when our consultancy group got going most of our projects were relatively small and standalone, and historically we have tended to do most of our work following a DSDM method. This is a RAD approach which allows us to focus on the key requirements first, and start to time-box deliveries to our customers, but to maintain flexibility as the project progresses. It has been pretty successful for us in the past on small to medium sized projects, however DSDM does raise a couple of issues. One of the main criticisms of DSDM is that it does not scale to very large systems, as well as some other approaches do. The key reason for this is the focus on prototyping requirements early and expanding these through the lifetime of the project, this tends to mean that the overall architectural framework may initially get ignored which could lead to scalability problems later. It tends to work well on projects where the framework is already well known or dictated by the products chosen, so for example developing an Extension to ArcGIS would be a good project for this approach, as it is mostly worrying about the client functionality and the UI, which are easy to prototype then extend, and there is not much need to think about architectural scalability. The second issue with adopting a RAD approach is that it can often be hard to fit this with the expectations of the customer, delivering software in an interactive manner requires resources from the customer to receive the deliveries and to test and provide constructive, timely feedback. A large percentage of our customers are public sector organisations who are often under-resourced, so its vital with this approach that all parties know exactly what they are getting when, and what resources are going to be required to make the project a success.

There have been a number of trends in the last few years that mean we have had to evolve our development approach. The size and technical complexity of projects has tended to get larger, which means that scalability and architecture is much more of an issue than ever before. Integration with other IT systems is much more common which means projects are tend to be based around building interfaces and components rather than end-to-end systems. The shape and architecture of GIS projects is now infinitely more varied that it used to be, with desktop, web, mobile and database systems, being mixed together in different combinations. To deal with these issues we have moved now to a process based on RUP, this allows us to keep the flexibility of an iterative approach, but to focus more heavily on getting the architecture correct to begin with. Its not a huge step from DSDM, but focuses on the bigger picture to begin with before breaking the project down into smaller iterations. Its good to have an flexible approach that can cope with change during the project, but its important to get the fundamentals right near the beginning, as it can be expensive to change the entire architecture once the project is well under way.

I'm also a fan of some of the agile development processes, particularly around agile modelling, and the AUP which attempts to simplify the full RUP approach into something a little more lightweight and flexible.

Its interesting to see what other organisations are up to, and what the constraints on adopting other approaches is.