Desktop GIS Software Adds CAD Tools

6 Oct, 2008 By: Andrew G. Roe,P.E.

Pitney Bowes' MapInfo Professional 9.5 can reduce need for stand-alone computer-aided design software.

A widely used desktop GIS (geospatial information systems) product has added more CAD capabilities to its toolkit. MapInfo Professional 9.5, released this summer, allows users to move and position objects at specific angles and distances, create parcels using various methods, and manipulate property boundaries more precisely than with previous releases.

Packaged with a host of other new features, the new release seems to indicate Pitney Bowes, which inherited the MapInfo product with the acquisition of MapInfo Corporation in 2007, is seeking a bigger piece of the technical GIS market. Historically, MapInfo's user base primarily has included retail, financial, and telecommunications users.

It's not yet known how many new users will be attracted to MapInfo Professional 9.5, but existing MapInfo users apparently are putting the new features to use. Eric Gagnon, a GIS specialist with the La Vallee District Planning Commission in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, Canada, has used MapInfo Professional's new CAD tools to document building permits and other planning and zoning documents. The CAD tools form "a missing link" for many MapInfo Professional users, he said.

In a common scenario, Gagnon's group documents the need for a variance from existing zoning regulations. After obtaining field measurements for a project such as a building addition, the group can work in MapInfo Professional to create a layer for the variance, draw structures and other linework, enclose regions with polygons, add attributes for the regions, and automatically label dimensions. Previously, such tasks were largely done in a CAD environment and exported into MapInfo.

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MapInfo's new CAD tools can be used to document planning and zoning issues. (Image courtesy of La Vallee District Planning Commission.) (Click image for a larger version.)

Along with the CAD tools, MapInfo Professional will also include a vector translucency feature which will be delivered in November via a maintenance release to all MapInfo Professional 9.5 customers. The new feature allows users to highlight parts of a map and continue to view underlying points, lines, and regions. Users can adjust the translucency of labels and other information to draw attention to certain portions of a map.

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Translucency enables users to highlight parts of a map and maintain visibility of underlying elements. (Image courtesy of Pitney Bowes.) (Click image for a larger version.)

Version 9.5 also includes new database support for Oracle 11G, Microsoft SQL 2008 spatial data, and the Open Geospatial Consortium’s WFS-T (Web Feature Service--Transactional). The latter enables read-write operations, such as downloading and manipulating vector information and saving it back to a server.

Programming capabilities have also been enhanced, with support for Visual Studio .NET development of graphical user interfaces and other custom routines. Previously, MapInfo programmers had to use the proprietary MapBasic tool to develop custom programs. Other new features include the ability to store named views for rapid zooming, additional editing and display options, and new options for sharing data in a Citrix workgroup environment.

Even with all the new features, Stamford, Connecticut-based Pitney Bowes is determined to keep MapInfo Professional easy to use and flexible in supporting different data formats, said Moshe Binyamin, MapInfo senior product manager. "Location analysis is just one way of analyzing data," he said. "Rather than create proprietary data silos, we allow you to use data in its native format." MapInfo currently has approximately 500,000 users worldwide, he said.

So will MapInfo put a dent in the market sectors of GIS heavyweights such as ESRI's ArcInfo and GE's Smallworld? Time will tell, but some feel the desktop market will remain distinct from the large-scale, enterprise products.

“The answer really depends on the business you’re in. For example, for a small survey shop, MapInfo was a good value even without the new enhancements. For a large survey shop, MapInfo's new functionality may make the difference," said Felix Zvarick, senior applications business analyst with Delmarva Power in Newark, Delaware. Zvarick has evaluated numerous GIS options for his work with Delmarva, a unit of Pepco Holdings, which supplies power to Delaware, Eastern Shore Maryland, Southern New Jersey, and the Washington, D.C., area. The enterprise-oriented products will remain tools of choice for large, multidisciplinary organizations where GIS is a foundation technology, Zvarick said.

Meanwhile, virtually all GIS products will be flavored by the increasing use of GPS data, he added. "The future driver of all these products is GPS [global positioning systems]," he said. "Public-sector data is becoming more accurate, and more ubiquitous." With improved accuracy, he noted, data used for planning will also find uses in engineering and vice versa, and as a result, the lines between GIS and CAD will continue to blur.

MapInfo Professional's new features have greatly minimized Gagnon's use of stand-alone CAD software, but the new tools have only whet his appetite for more. "It's like watching a black-and-white TV and someone brings in a [tube-based] color TV. It's a big improvement, but there's still a plasma set out there somewhere."

About the Author: Andrew G. Roe

Andrew G. Roe

About the Author: P.E.

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