The Esri UC So Far #EsriUC

So I’m halfway through the largest geospatial event of the year, attending it for the first time in four years, and I haven’t blogged yet. As always, it’s a busy week. Because this event draws people from all over the country (and world), my dance card fills up pretty quickly. And, by the way, there’s a conference going on.

This is the first I’ve ever attended the Esri User Conference as just an attendee. If it were a video game, I’d be playing it on the easy level. I sat through the entire plenary for the first time in years. It was nice table setting for the rest of the week. As the father of a dancer, I have developed an eye for choreography and there is plenty of it up on the plenary stage. If I were to level one piece of constructive criticism toward the UC, it’s that I’d let speakers be themselves a little bit more. That said, the content was delivered smoothly, which is really the larger point.

The plenary features a lot of demos that are rehearsed to within an inch of their lives. Knowing that, I still found ArcGIS Pro to be interesting. The UI is well-designed to get out the user’s way and it’s native 64-bit architecture finally allows it to take advantage of system resources in a way that ArcMap never could. The UI is more modern, featuring the ribbon toolbar. Esri seems to have learned a lesson from Microsoft by not re-engineering the UI of a familiar product, but releasing a new product that users can transition to. That was smart. In Microsoft Office terms, the UI upates from the Office 97 feel of ArcMap to more of an Office 2012 feel. Tasks in ArcGIS simplify geoprocessing even more but also run the risk of hiding complexity too much. I hope we’re not training another generation of button-clickers.

One of the more subtle announcements in the plenary was that ArcGIS Portal will be included with ArcGIS Server at 10.3. I suspect that’s the beginning of a gentle nudge of Server into ArcIMS-like oblivion but that’s just my speculation.

The newly-released (not beta) ArcGIS Open Data extension (product?) was shown by Andrew Turner. It does a very nice job of putting an almost-GeoCommons-easy interface in front of ArcGIS Online to enable organizations to easily share their data. Andrew showed the implementations for the DC government and the State of Maryland. Maryland, in particular, is exceedingly happy with how quickly it has helped them start sharing data. By chance, I had dinner with some of the development team the night before and it’s a motivated team with a diverse skill set not rooted in traditional Esri thinking which, in my opinion, bodes well for what they are doing.

Yesterday, I sat through a couple of sessions on the GeoEvent Processor (GEP), which has already been rebranded as the GeoEvent Extension for Server (or something like that). Those who have tracked my blog over the years know that I’ve done a lot of work with situational awareness systems. Within that field, I’ve concentrated a lot on feeds (streaming data sources) and track management so it’s something of a geeky passion for me. Esri’s previous, long-standing, and wholly awful product in this space was Tracking Server. I would gleefully dance around Tracking Server’s funeral pyre.

GEP seems to be a better attempt at solving this problem. In its current incarnation, it simply doesn’t have the throughput my customers will need (it currently supports about 800 – 1000 messages per second). To the product team’s credit, they know this and are focusing on it. At 10.3, GEP will support “clustering” to increase throughtput. Clustering, however, was not explained during the session and could mean anything so I’ll wait and see. The management interfaces and APIs behind GEP are top-notch and enable some of the use cases I’ve supported in the past. Once the throughput challenges are solved, this could be a product to watch.

You may have noticed a few parenthetical comments above when referring to product names. The reason for that is that Esri’s product naming has fallen off the cliff to become just confusing, unwieldy, and random. Couple that with the fact that product names change constantly, or are recycled endlessly (Explorer?), and it’s a complete mess. It’s always been difficult walking new users through the maze of Esri products and the current naming “convention” doesn’t help at all. Esri really needs to circle the wagons on this and simplify things.