Product Survey Preview

June 3, 2002
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A look at GIS software.

This year it is my distinct pleasure to write the first ever Introduction to POB’s GIS Software Survey. When I first saw this survey I was impressed by the amount of technical detail it contained. I even had to check out “Vector Spaghetti” to find out what it was. Because this is a survey, the hyperbole that often accompanies product information is absent. What we see instead is the comprehensive detailing of an impressive display of technical information put forth in an open straightforward manner.

If this were a total station or data collector survey, many surveyors would quickly be able to select the make and model best suited to their needs. It is equally important to match the GIS environment to the needs of the user. Because even in the highly technical world of Geographic Information Systems, human factors determine the success of a program more often than not.

Generally speaking, GIS software is marketed to two groups: GIS users and GIS developers. And like any other product line, GIS software pricing is more or less determined by the range of its functions and robustness of its features.

I understand that in much of the survey world GIS starts with ‘G’ and that rhymes with ‘T’ and that stands for “trouble right here in River City.”* But before you skip through these pages laden with many new and confusing terms to get to another fine article by one of my colleagues, let’s take a few moments to examine what some of them mean. You may even discover you knew more about GIS than you thought you did.

Some of Those Important Features

Operating system/Network Support: This is always the first important consideration. Verify your OS supports the product best suited to your particular needs. If you want to operate on a network, be sure the OS is robust enough and the product supports network licensing.

RDBMS (Relational Data Base Management System) : This is important to understand. This means the software has the capability to link a variety of tables by common fields. Typically, an RDBMS also supports multiple users as well as controlling the data set version.

Import/Export Utilities: Common currency is important here. A proprietary format will limit your ability to exchange files with other users.

Map Design and Composition: Interactive pretty much means WYSIWYG.

GIS Data Entry and Editing: Broad spectrum file type support for data entry is desirable, and the available on-screen editing features are also very important. Unlike many CAD packages, GIS attribute data is generally tabular. Because tabular data largely controls screen output, powerful table editing features are essential.

Geographic Query and Analysis Functions: This refers to the capability of the toolset in the product. Some are simple on-screen “button” queries and some generate complex, comprehensive reports.

Terrain Data Processing and Analysis: Good tools here make for impressive maps and presentations. Slope (change in surface value expressed as a percentage, just like surveying), Aspect (compass direction measured in degrees clockwise from north toward which the slope faces) and Draping (two dimensional panoramic rendering of features superimposed on a surface), combined with good color combinations make powerful presentations. Now about Vector Spaghetti. No, it is not the co-star of the 1965 Beatles film “Help!” like I thought; that was Victor Spinetti. Vector Spaghetti is a non-topological raster to vector conversion process.

Click here to view the online version of the GIS software survey.

*Ref: The Music Man, Meredith Willson

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