Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ArcGIS Explorer : A Quick Look

Today at work, I stumbled upon ArcGIS Explorer totally by accident. I am a user of ESRI products and an active developer of different extensions and plugins. I was surprised to find out that ArcGIS has a Google Earth-like application available for free! After a quick dinner, I decided to sit down and blog about it. For reference, you can download ArcGIS Explorere from here. I spent quite a bit of time digging through the menu options, which were rather feature rich. Some of the options that struck my eye included units of measure, sun positioning, movement (fly / move to), environment and cloud settings. One of the options that surprised me the most were the advanced caching options. The caching options are reasonably detailed in their specification, which is always a plus for the power user.

So, I went ahead and attempted to perform a simple search. I tried using 'orlando florida, since that is where I live :-) I ended up getting a 'Place not found orlando florida' show up in my Results. That was pretty annoying. I noticed the 'Exact match' option was checked off and figured that may be interfering with the search, so I toggled it off. I still received a 'Place not found orlando florida'. I then figured it was having a hard time distinguishing between city/state, so I tried 'orlando, florida'; this Resulted in one hit! I think the ESRI folk have some cosmetic work to do on the search feature. Once I had my search result, I went ahead and right-clicked it to see what options I had. The options is has are pretty neat!

It can modify the style of your place mark, including selecting a symbol. You can also tag it with the location and camera look-at properties, simply by pressing the snapshot camera button. Within the popup window you can modify the popup window content, this includes adding html.

I went ahead and zoomed in on my apartment coordinates. I was astonished to find that the imagery was more up to date than that of Google Earth. For sanity, I took a peek at FlashEarth and noticed the imagery was more up to date than VE as well! I think I lucked out on my location :-) If you're interested in commenting on your imagery status, i'd be curious to hear. Although the imagery is sharper, I did notice that the load time was rather sluggish.

I next took a stab at the "Find Address" tool. I had to select my country, which I thought was reasonably lame. I entered my address in the format "street, city, state" and the result was found. For some reason, this got me to wondering how easy it would be to export and import data. I noticed there were two options that related to this:
  1. Tools->Import File
  2. File->Open
I selected 2 and received the dialog that you see below. This had way more options than I ever expected, many of which are very useful from a GIS perspective. Now onward to see how well it works.

I had several shapefiles sitting around that contained vector data for the Orlando / Oviedo area of Florida. I went ahead and added my "us_roads" shapefile and it started asking me for various import options:
  1. it asked me the typical scale that it should be visible for, I used the default
  2. it prompted me to indicated how I wanted the symbol sizes to be translated to real world units, I opted for Symbol point units to: 20m
  3. it asked me for the disk caching options I wanted to use for the layer
  4. it asked me for the color symbol (just chose yellow) to use and pressed finish
The shapefile loaded! That was pretty damn cool... However, I have to admit that I wasn't impressed with the aliasing; in fact, it sucked. That being said, i'm new to this and I may just be making a noob mistake. If you think you have an answer as to why this is, please let me know!!

I was going to try a geodatabase next but figured meh, let me give rasters a try. So, I selected Rasters and browsed to some Imagery I had on disk (some GeoTiffs). The first time, I accidentally selected 14, 78Mb GeoTIFFS and it didn't like that too much. The second time, I selected two pflugerville sid files I had and loaded them up. I right clicked and zoomed to layer and the results weren't shabby.

I zoomed in a bit and the imagery appeared to be reasonably correlated. You can access the legend, set the layers transparency and additionally set the rasters background transparency color. You can also adjust the way that you want the imagery cached on disk.

Finally, browsing the View menu options, I realized you can copy the current view to the clipboard, so I did a quick test into Paint and it was in full color.

After a few minutes of poking around in this utility, I was reasonably impressed. I have to eat some dinner now but i'll definitely be playing with this utility more throughout the evening. I am definitely interested in seeing what the interfaces are like for a developer :-)

Cheers ESRI, Great Work!

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