ArcInfo 8 Nears Final Release
Thirty months in the making, the eagerly anticipated ArcInfo 8 and ArcSDE 8 were released as beta software in early February. ArcInfo 8 and ArcSDE 8 are the first software products built from Esri's next generation ArcGIS component-based GIS technology. Both software products continue to operate independently, but at version 8, they are also integrated. This integration offers unparalleled capability, scalability, and usability for implementing GIS in organizations.
In planning ArcInfo 8 Esri listened carefully to what users were saying. Users wanted an easier to use and more productive GIS. The aspect of ArcInfo 8 that will be most widely appreciated is the thoroughly modern menu-driven user interface. The ArcInfo 8 graphical user interface (GUI) follows the latest Windows standards and makes extensive use of wizards for frequently performed tasks.
ArcInfo 8--Workstation and Desktop
Following in the footsteps of earlier versions, ArcInfo 8 is a sophisticated full-featured GIS software system. It sets the standard for the industry because of its comprehensive capabilities for creating and maintaining spatial databases, automated cartography, and advanced analysis and modeling. ArcInfo 8 comprises two main parts--Workstation ArcInfo and Desktop ArcInfo.
Workstation ArcInfo is essentially an updated and enhanced version of the core ArcInfo software product. It has the familiar ARC, ARCEDIT, and ARCPLOT applications; ARC Macro Language (AML); the Open Development Environment (ODE) customization capability; and all extensions (except ArcExpress). New features and enhancements to Workstation ArcInfo include a Java ODE application programming interface (API), new generalization tools, and new and updated data converters. Updated versions of all the same hardware platforms and databases will be available.
Desktop ArcInfo is the new part of version 8. It essentially consists of three new applications: Arc Map, Arc Catalog, and Arc Toolbox (formerly referred to as Studio, Manager, and Toolbox). Arc Map is the map-centric application for displaying, querying, and analyzing vector and raster map data. A fundamental part of Arc Map is the object-based editor that plugs into the Arc Map framework. The editor is highly interactive and rule based with powerful tools for creating and maintaining spatial databases (referred to as GeoDatabases). Arc Catalog is a data-centric application that will allow users to locate, browse, and manage all data types. It is rather like a spatially enabled Windows explorer tool. Arc Toolbox is a menu-driven application for performing geoprocessing operations such as conversion, overlay analysis, buffering, and map transformation. Desktop ArcInfo is based on Microsoft Windows technology and operates only on Windows platforms.
In addition to these desktop applications, ArcInfo 8 also includes a suite of GIS services. These include user setup to install applications; the license manager; data servers such as ArcSDE, ArcStorm, and ArcInfo LIBRARIAN; and the Interapplication Communication Server (IAC) that supports client/server communication across networks. New at ArcInfo 8 is ArcInfo Server, which allows the desktop applications to call powerful tools on other machines to perform operations such as overlay and proximity analysis, data conversion, or map transformations. ArcInfo Server is built using ODE and the Workstation ArcInfo geoprocessing tools. In this client/server model, a Desktop ArcInfo application is able to request the services of ArcInfo Server. The results of the server operation are returned to the client desktop application for display.
Although both the workstation and desktop technologies are vital parts of ArcInfo, because the Desktop ArcInfo technology is brand new, the remainder of this article will concentrate on this aspect.
Enriched Data Model
ArcInfo 8 has an expanded and much enriched data model that will make it easier for people to define and work with geographic data. The ArcInfo 8 data model was the subject of a cover article in the previous ARC News (Winter 1998/99) and will only be discussed briefly here.
The ArcInfo Version 7 georelational data model is geometry-centric. It uses a row in a tabular database to represent a geographic entity such as a parcel, road, or manhole. In this model, the feature type is defined purely by the attribute data; a parcel is no different from a building, a road no different than a stream. Each feature is made from two-dimensional geometry and a collection of attributes. At version 8, the georelational data model will continue to be used for Workstation ArcInfo applications and will be supported by Desktop ArcInfo applications. The new applications will, additionally, use an object-oriented GeoDataObject model that provides a means to encapsulate behavior with the feature data. It allows applications to define and work directly with actual domain objects (e.g., parcels, roads, or manholes) instead of just rows in a database.
The new GeoDataObject model can also be thought of as the data access layer. It offers the ability to deal with multiple data sources and databases in a consistent way. For example, an Arc Map user performing an edit operation on an ArcSDE database might want to use an existing coverage or shapefile of some land base information for background context. The new technology in ArcInfo 8 will support seamless access to all these data sets within the same application.
ArcInfo 8 was designed from the outset to work natively with multiple data formats: both file and database resident geodatabases. These include file formats like coverages, shapefiles, CAD files, and many image formats, as well as two flavors of Spatial Database Engine (SDE). Every copy of ArcInfo includes an embedded version of SDE. This is a personal version of SDE that stores data in Microsoft Access (strictly speaking, it's the Jet Engine underlying Access). The term Personal SDE has been adopted because, although this is a full version of SDE technology, it requires little administration (indeed many users will never even know that SDE is installed on the system) and because it only allows single user editing/update (multiuser read access is fully supported).
For users who want true multiuser editing to store their data in other relational databases (e.g., DB2, Informix, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, or Sybase) or to operate in a client/server configuration, ArcSDE 8 is an option.
In many respects the new version of ArcSDE is as revolutionary as ArcInfo 8. Key new features include direct editing of a versioned managed GeoDatabase in a long transaction environment. An ArcInfo 8 user can invoke the editor within the main display window of Arc Map and start editing. In the background, unknown to many users, they will connect to an ArcSDE database, start a long transaction on a versioned database, and begin direct editing of the database features. When all the required edits have been performed, the transaction can be committed. If someone else had been editing the same features at the same time and caused a conflict, the user is given options to discard their edits, override conflicts in the database, reconcile any conflicts, or make a new database version for subsequent reconciliation.
Desktop ArcInfo includes state-of-the-art customization capabilities on three levels: menu driven, application scripting, and advanced application development. Menu-driven customization is the simplest and does not even require programming. Using the standard out-of-the-box GUI, menu controls (e.g., buttons and toolbars) can be turned on/off and moved around. With the built-in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) scripting capability, frequently performed tasks can be automated, and new forms and controls can be added to both Arc Map and Arc Catalog. A new feature never provided in Esri software before is the ability to work with and extend software at the most fundamental level. The whole of Desktop ArcInfo can be customized with any COM-compliant programming language (Visual Basic, Delphi, Visual C++, Visual J++, etc.). This includes subclassing the data model, adding new renderers and data converters, and creating advanced extensions.
Workstation and Desktop ArcInfo will be packaged on separate CDs and will be distributed to all new users and existing users current on maintenance. As with Workstation ArcInfo Version 7.2, Desktop ArcInfo will be licensed locally or from a shared license manager, but will run only on the Windows NT platform. The initial release will be in English only, but the software will soon be localized for other languages.
Early indications are that ArcInfo 8 and ArcSDE 8 will be enthusiastically received by Esri end users and developers alike. The combination of the traditional power of ArcInfo and the new usability, scalability, and extensibility of these new versions will set new standards in the GIS industry.
ArcInfo 8 and ArcSDE 8 moved into a second beta phase in April and will be released concurrently in the Summer of 1999. For more information, contact your Esri regional office. Outside the United States, contact your local Esri distributor.