Pour One Out for ArcMap

On March 1, 2024, ArcMap will transition into “mature support.” This means it will stop getting patches and updates. While ArcMap is not scheduled to be retired until 2026, the lack of patches and updates is the death knell for any modern software. At a minimum, many IT shops will begin to uninstall it simply based on the lack of future patches.

This has been a long time coming. The first version of ArcGIS Pro was released on January 27, 2015 (I’m leaving out betas and previews prior to that). So we’re about a week away from the nine-year anniversary of the original release of Pro. Bottom line: ArcGIS Pro is not new software. Any shop that is dependent upon Esri desktop tools should have transitioned to Pro a long time ago. If not, John Lennon once said “Instant karma’s gonna get ya.” (Not that nine years is “instant.”)

I was at the Esri UC in 2000, when the comparatively quick sunset of ArcView 3.x in favor of ArcMap was announced. The hallway chatter was not enthusiastic. I and my customers at the time didn’t have a lot of investment in ArcView in terms of Avenue code and processes, but I knew many who did and they struggled. I don’t know if that experience informed the kid-gloves approach Esri has taken with the sunset of ArcMap, but I can’t say they haven’t given their users more than enough time to move to Pro. I think they have dealt with the process in a respectful manner.

For me, the sunset of ArcMap is a cause for a little nostalgia. I don’t use ArcMap at all these days, and the the majority of my geospatial work is done with open source tools. That said, I do have some active consulting with Esri tools and I spend a little time in ArcGIS Pro. I’ve generally been happy with the experience and I like it far better than ArcMap. I still prefer QGIS over both of them, but ArcGIS Pro is pretty good software.

ArcMap, however, figured prominently in the early part of my career. From the time I entered the GIS market in 1993 to 1999, I had done application development mostly with ESRI software. There were some side trips into MapInfo and Autodesk, but I mostly worked with ARC/INFO, ArcView, MapObjects, AML, and Avenue over that time. Immediately prior to the release of the first beta of ArcGIS (ArcMap), I had developed a modular geospatial analysis system using MapObjects. It was a pluggable system that enabled the analysis of infrastructure networks. I built the core architecture and SDK and a couple of the analytic plug-ins. Several other public and private sector partners also developed plug-ins. That’s why, at the time of the 2000 UC, I wasn’t heavily invested in ArcView and Avenue. MapObjects continued on for a few more years, so we had time to plan a transition.

An early (and ugly) example of my work integrating ArcMap with open-source tools.

And transition we did. We had just released a new major version of our MapObjects-based system and my customer asked what was next. I responded that we freeze it as is and move to ArcGIS. He was surprised but gave us the green light. It was a good move because a lot of the core housekeeping tasks were just handled by ArcGIS and we could focus on the analytic tools. I spent the next six months transitioning an application that analyzed switched telecommunication networks over to ArcGIS and ArcObjects. This was ArcGIS 8.0 Beta 1. By the time ArcGIS was officially released, we already had our transition plan mapped out and reference implementations in place for our partners.

It’s no exaggeration to say that period of time, transitioning from MapObjects to ArcGIS is what really matured me as a geospatial developer. Because I was so deep into ArcMap at the time, I became intrigued by the zigGIS project, which was an open-source ArcMap extension that provided support for PostGIS. (PostGIS was not supported by ArcGIS at the time.) That was my gateway into open-source GIS and is also about when I started this blog in 2006. My journey since then has been well-documented here.

As ArcMap aged, it got harder to use. It didn’t play well on 64-bit systems. Writing applications with ArcObjects got more and more difficult as COM interop got more clunky. After a while, I couldn’t be productive with it anymore, so I began to explore QGIS more and that has become my GUI desktop GIS tool of choice. I actually do more analysis at the psql command line now than I do via a GUI, but that is beside the point. I may have outgrown ArcMap, ArcGIS, and ArcObjects, but that growth was initially spurred by them.

So, on March 1, 2024, I’ll raise a glass to ArcMap and say thanks. I wouldn’t be here without it.