Did you know that ESRI does Open Source?….ArcGIS Explorer

Due to some work I am currently working on, I am reviewing different ways employees can view data. Where this is an internal system, it has to be as cheap as possible but also integrate with all the current systems we have, of course my first thought was the rather swish new QGIS 2.0, but after having issues with transforming data between the 2 primary coordinate systems used in our work, I started to look elsewhere for a cost effective solution.

I have used ArcGIS Explorer before for demonstrating basic GIS capability to clients and for giving people a feel for how projects can operate, the main gripe I always had was that it was very restrictive and you couldn’t even view the attribution without having to add query tools. So imagine my surprise when, during a meeting I scoffed at a fellow GIS Consultant for using ArcGIS Explorer, only to be put  in my place very quickly by a demonstration of the new 2500 build available for download here.

So, what changed? Quite simply, not a lot and at the same time (for me) everything. There is now the ability to view the attribute table for a feature and also the whole system can be run from a USB Stick….Yes you read that right, from a USB Stick!! Only minor changes but big enough to make this a consideration for me to role out to our other consultants.

Lets quickly roll through some of the nifty little things hidden inside ArcGIS Explorer;

  • Huge range of spatial data formats; ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Layers, Map Content Files, KML files, GIS Services (WMS. WFS etc), Shapefiles, Raster Data, Geodatabase Data, Text Files, GPS Data files, Image Overlays, & Access to ESRI ArcGIS Online data and basemaps
  • Customisable interface; Company branding, restricted tools, preset coordinate systems and also (my favourite) changing the splash screen, are all easy to apply and set.
  • 2D & 3D display: Although the 3D display is a little power hungry, it provides the ability to add detail which is not possible in other interfaces.
  • Its easy to use: My 6yr old daughter can use it, it is very simple and designed to take all the confusion out of mapping. If your audience can use Google Earth, they can use this!
  • Coordinate Systems: Comes with the ESRI basic set of coordinate systems but can be upgraded (free) with more and it also supports NTV2 format transformations.
  • Map Licensing: To some it’s a grudge bear, to others it’s a god-send. WIthin the map display, the current mapping data license is shown in the bottom right of the screen when using ArcGIS Online data, from my personal view, it’s great as it means if someone takes a screengrab and sends it behind my back, I’m covered!

Obviously this is just a quick overview, there are plenty of other little tools which will be relevant to you and your need.

Okay, now the confusing bit, this great bit of kit being supplied by ESRI for FREE. The purists amongst you will be quick to identify that it is not pure open source but to be fair, considering the liability ESRI would have if it WAS purely open source, I think this is the spot on, of course you will have to examine the licence yourself, though this extract under “Notes” in Section 20 gives you an idea of the licence terms:

You may reproduce and deploy the Software provided all the following occur:
a. The Software is reproduced and deployed in its entirety;
b. A license agreement accompanies each copy of the Software that protects the Software to the same extent
as the License Agreement, and the recipient agrees to be bound by the terms and conditions of the license
c. All copyright and trademark attributions/notices are reproduced; and
d. There is no charge or fee attributable to the use of the Software.

ESRI are realising that open source is the future of GIS and the way forward, having seen the progress the company has made with its software since they released this in ArcNews in Spring 2011, did you know that they were at FOSS4G NA?: Their blog shows them presenting on “Portals”…..one thing is for sure, ESRI may never give out a free GIS system like QGIS or GRASS but for those of us stuck in private sector business with ArcGIS Desktop, there is now a way to provide your colleagues with some capability for free.


Nick D

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