AGX Build 480 is Corny

Or maybe it’s just this post.

It’s always fun in tools such as ArcGIS Explorer and Google Earth to browse around your local area and check out the familiar sites, especially when there is an update. In my case, that means browsing around Southern Maryland. The imagery in build 480 for my area was apparently captured in the fall since corn mazes can be see pretty clearly. Here are the approximate coordinates of a couple:

-76.698488, 38.323529
-76.720778, 38.411094

The second is of particular interest. I took my daughter to that one in Pre-K. I know this because the owners helpfully carved the words “Forrest Hall Farm 2005” into the field. This is all the more interesting since the copyright statement at the corner of the screen would lead you to believe you are looking at 2007 imagery.

This kind of like looking for the errors in movies.

Coming Up For Air

Work has a funny way of intruding on blogging. I’ve been writing a LOT of proposals lately. The funny part is that so have a lot of others that I know. Federal, state, local…they seem to have gotten their budgets all at the same time. There are worse problems to have.

During this period (which I am calling my “Word Period”) I have been watching as Abe and Paolo get zigGIS out the door. I was able to confirm that I indeed introduced a bug a couple of versions back. I guess you can’t win ’em all.

I have been keeping my sanity by slinging a little code here and there. I am hoping to finish up an experimental Twitter client for ArcGIS Explorer. Mainly, it’s an exercise to get me familiar with the Twitter and Twittervision APIs. Plus, it’s been a while since I’ve done anything with AGX. The upcoming builds look exciting so I want to get comfortable with it again.

There’s light at the end of tunnel on the proposal stuff so I’m hoping to get a little more technical again here in the next couple of weeks. Until then, I’ll have to accept the fact that Word, Paint.Net, Acrobat and Twhirl (all work and no play) have pushed Visual Studio and anything GIS related off my recently used list.

ArcGIS 9.4 Mentioned at FedUC

This is my first time posting from my Moto Q so forgive any typos.

I just sat through the FedUC opening talk by Jack. There was a lot of talk about 9.3, as would be expected. There was also a lot of talk about positioning AGS support the GeoWeb, including a compelling demo of an AGS-based drive-time analysis in AGX, GE, VE and GMaps. More on that later.

Jack also mentioned some of the work being done to extend the geodatabase at 9.4. Not a whole lot was said about 9.4 (intentionally) except a little about beefed up 3D support in the geodatabase but he did mention the end of the year as a release target.

That’s the first concrete thing I had heard about a 9.x release beyond 9.3.

Free and Closed. Why?

I was IMing with Paolo today and we were discussing his employer’s decision to migrate to open-source. The conversation took a few turns and we touched upon the concept of free closed-source software vice free open-source software. His employer had rejected a free CMS that was not open-source.

This got me into a philosophical frame of mind. I began wondering if, in this day and age, there is any reason to consciously choose to release a software product as a free, but closed-source product? I raised this question a while back with regard to ArcGIS Explorer but now I’m expanding the question. I would love to hear comments on this but I’d like to establish a few parameters:

  1. I’m not interested in delving into the open-source vs. commercial software debate.
  2. I’m not trying to criticize anyone who chooses to keep their source code closed. I’m genuinely curious about the decision process.
  3. I’m not referring to things like “nagware”, demo software with restricted functionality or free products that are really teasers for commercial products (which is what I consider Google Earth to be).
  4. Please keep it civil. We’re all grown-ups and/or professionals.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Why Isn’t ArcGIS Explorer Open Source?

I was tinkering with AGX today, mainly trying to get comfortable with the API. As I was playing with it, this thought crept into my head: Why isn’t this thing open source? Okay, aside from the fact that it was released by ESRI…

There are two main reasons that I ponder this: First, it’s already free. ESRI isn’t charging for it so it’s essentially a cost sink for them. ESRI still incurs all of the costs associated with lifecycle maintenance with no direct recovery of those costs. Yes, I know that they are diffused across the revenue streams of the rest of the product line but bear with me. One could make a strong case that by making AGX open-source, ESRI’s overall costs would go down. Right now, they shoulder 100% of the cost. By opening up the product to a community of developers, that cost would go down. Basically, I don’t think that a free, closed-source AGX is going give ESRI much traction anywhere so you could call this the “what-have-they-got-to-lose” argument.

Secondly, there’s Google Earth. I will say right now that GE is a superior product to AGX. I won’t even try to debate otherwise. That said, AGX is pretty good. I know that ESRI has said that AGX is not intended to compete with GE. It’s targeted at the enterprise environment where it would be the “spinny globe” client to their server software. This is precisely the environment where GE starts to cost a good bit of money. By taking AGX open-source, ESRI could accelerate the advancement of the product while reducing costs and have it remain competitive. I think AGX will go over just fine in shops that are already using ESRI’s software but I don’t think it’s compelling enough to expand their market on its own. But, with its ability to consume KML, WMS, ArcIMS and ArcGIS Server as well as with its API; AGX has got a little game. Taking it open-source could potentially open up a whole new community of advocates who would have a little pride of ownership.

There are other smaller reasons to do it as well. ESRI has started dabbling in the open-source world with the 52 North initiative. Opening the source to AGX would certainly demonstrate commitment there. Also, this particular market segment is crowded: GE, AGX, World Wind, Virtual Earth 3D. AGX, as it stands now, adds little to the picture. An open-source AGX would at least add something to the community.

The main downside would be the difficulty in synchronizing the activity of an open-source project with the release schedule of ArcGIS. In addition, ESRI could risk losing control of the product altogether but there are enough models of open-source projects with corporate backing, such as Eclipse, to work from.

So, maybe it makes sense and maybe not. I could probably argue it either way for quite a while. AGX plugs a gap in the ESRI product line that’s existed for a long time and maybe that’s good enough for them. It’s most likely a complete non-starter. But again, it’s a free product. So, if it’s free, maybe it should be set free.