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Maptitude Geographical Information System Software 5.0 Review

Product Name: Maptitude Geographical Information System
Company: Caliper Corporation, Newton, MA, USA
URL: www.caliper.com
Version: 5.0; 2007
Operating Systems: Linux, Unix, Mac OSX, Windows
Cost: $495 US/single workstation license; package includes software CD, geographical data CD and 534 p user guide

A creation for both the novice and professional GIS user, Maptitude GIS not only offers a large spectrum of mapping and analytical tools, but it also comes bundled with geographical data and pre-made maps - a feature that parallels the convenient, quick and easy flavours of online interactive mapping programs. Maptitude has many common features of other desktop GIS programs, but it also has several unique functions not found in other programs, refreshingly separating it from the mesh of others. Although no one GIS program will meet or satisfy the entire needs of all users, Maptitude is designed to accomplish and satisfy most of the analytical and map making tasks often required by professionals and organizations - especially those without any previous knowledge or experience in using geographical information systems, collecting geospatial data, or displaying information in a visual way. When a user sits down with Maptitude, they are sitting down with a GIS package- a one stop shop consisting of a user friendly program, an abundance of GIS files, and a rich step-by step resource guide leading the user every step of the way.

Specifications and Installation:

Licensing

    Both Maptitude GIS and the accompanying datasets and manual must be used in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Caliper Product Software License.

System Requirements

    Minimum Requirements:

  • Personal computer running Windows 2000, XP, or Vista
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • 32 MB RAM
  • 170 MB hard disk space for program files (additional hard disk space required if installing geographic data files)
  • Video card capable of displaying XGA at 16-bit colors

Supported File Formats

    Reads Vector Files
    SHP, E00, TAB, MID/MIF, DXF, CDF/DBD, DGN, TIGER, VPF, GDF, DLG, SDTS, GPX


    Reads DEM Files
    DEM, FLOAT GRID, and others

Help

Included with the software program is a 534-page user guide manual with illustrations. The guide covers the full spectrum of the program - from install to map making to analysis. The manual also includes a very handy 60-second recap after every section. The program itself offers a help menu, and additionally many other resources are available as well, including online video tutorials, blogs and hands-on training sessions. Technical support from Maptitude specialists is also available upon request.

Installation

The install process is fairly simple with instructions available in the user guide. A Software Key is required which accompanies the CD. Once the install has completed, it is recommended to re-start the computer before the program is launched for the first time. Maptitude requires 170 megabytes of space, which doesn’t include the data. The data is provided on a separate DVD which, if copied to the hard drive, requires approximately 2 gigabytes of free space.

Geographical data

Pre-designed maps and data

For those who use GIS programs where individual base layers need to be added one by one, they will quickly realize the benefits of these pre-designed maps and collection of data. The map/data library contains over 100 interactive maps from a variety of categories, including general purpose street mapping, as well as US demographical data. The user may choose to focus on one of these maps, to explore the resources within them, or they may simply choose to begin their mapping journey by using these maps as navigational aids or as a base map to add their own data to. Having the data library at the users’ fingertips not only offers them data that they would otherwise have to collect and purchase themselves, but it allows them to concentrate their time on the actual analysis and map making process.

The user begins the mapping session by selecting a geographical area of interest (from US postal code level up to the world level). What opens up is essentially a map zoomed into the appropriate geographic location with the data pre-loaded and symbols pre-selected. Also visible is the legend and map inset. Similar to the look and feel of online interactive maps, when users modify their active layers, the legend automatically gets updated as well - but with the added benefit of not needing to hit a ‘reload’ or ‘refresh’ button. Similarly, should the user zoom in or out of an area, and the visible features should happen to change, then the legend will update itself as well.

Figure 1 - The map above is zoomed out at full extent, and only a few features are visible,
as represented on the legend.
 
Figure 2 - The map has been zoomed in significantly and the number of features visible has also increased.
The legend automatically updates itself to reflect the current map view.

The collection of data includes the latest US nationwide street data, topographic data, and statistical data such as population (2006), demographic, social, economic and housing profile data (2000), a world gazetteer, and world digital elevation data.

Using external data

Any of the data formats listed earlier can be added into Maptitude. And as is similar with other GIS programs, users can add their data stored in tabular formats (Excel worksheets, dBASE files, Access tables, or any Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) compliant data source). In fact, Maptitude offers a Create-a-Map Wizard tool, a feature that assists the user in the map making process, including the ability to geocode data by either US street address, ZIP codes, City, or by international place, state/province, and country.

Analytical and Mapping Features

Most GIS programs offer users tools that enable users to examine and manipulate data in analytical ways. Some programs offer more functionality than others, and some offer it in a user friendlier way. Maptitude does just that. It provides users with easy solutions for querying and editing data (including clipping and merging), creating overlays, building 3D models, performing terrain analysis, as well as offering several network related analyses tools. The advanced GIS user will find many of their needs taken care of with the features built into the program, however if a user should so desire to customize any of the functions or add additional ones, Maptitude includes the GIS Developer’s Kit (GISDK). Caliper’s GISDK programming language offers programmers with the option of adding additional tools, add-ins, and even creating a custom GIS application program. Those in the business industry may find this customization option beneficial when working with other organizations and customers.

Map Wizards

The strengths and special features of Maptitude seem to have an overall business flavour, offering professionals a quick and easy tool to extract meaning from tabular data, draw conclusions from map results and display findings in a professional way. Probably one of the more useful features of the program is offering users wizards for creating maps from thematic data. Often regarded by users as a difficult cartographic theme to work with, Maptitude makes statistical mappings effortless. Users can choose one of several wizards that will guide them step-by step to creating choropleth maps, dot density maps, scaled symbol maps and even charts.

For choropleth mapping for example, the user selects the field they would like to map (i.e. age groups) and selects the classification method (equal interval, quantile, etc). The user selects a colour scheme, and essentially has completed the map. One can map multiple themes by combining the choropleth map with dot density or scaled symbols. The user can also create his or her own formula which further customizes the map theme - one can divide one attribute by another, displaying proper normalized results. For example, to determine the percentage of total unemployed males, one would need to normalize the data by an attribute that reflects the number of total males ‘in the labour force’. Simply displaying the total number of unemployed males will inflate the numbers drastically because it will include all the males who are too young to work, as well as those who have retired. Maptitude offers users a very user-friendly formula creator which can be used with all the map wizards. If there’s one area that can use a little tweaking it would be the addition of statistical diagram summaries which would visually describe the distribution of the themed dataset. Although several classification methods are available for choosing, visually analyzing the data’s distribution of frequencies, the mean, standard deviation, etc, would aid the user in selecting the appropriate classification method.

Figure 3 - Thematic map showing dwelling counts.

Google Earth and TerraServer Imagery

A rather unique feature found in Maptitude is the ability to bring in satellite imagery available from TerraServer and Google Earth with a click of a button (internet connection necessary). This is a profoundly useful tool because when using a resource like Google Earth, one cannot download the imagery in a georeferenced format to be later added into a GIS program. Yet with Maptitude’s feature, one can connect to the data in under 30 seconds, and have it placed in the current map view’s extent. Additionally, the image metadata is provided as well, offering the image resolution, the owner of the image and the image date (TerraServer image only). The resolution of the image is dependent on the user’s geography extent. A larger area may, for example, provide the user with an image with 32 metre resolution, yet a smaller area of interest will give the user a crisper 2 metre resolution image. Please note however, that the image that is displayed in Google Earth, does not display in the same way in Maptitude. The image will be lower resolution and monochromatic (even if original is in colour). It’s recommended that the user zoom into the exact location they are interested in, and then bring in the satellite image for best possible results. Because the image is dependent on internet connectivity, the image will only be available during the current map session. If the user saves the map, s/he will successfully save it with the satellite image in view. This feature also provides the option of locating the user’s map view extent as seen in Maptitude, in Google Earth. With this feature, the user will have two resources zoomed into the exact same geographical extents.

Exporting to KML

Maptitude caters to Google Earth users by providing them with the ability to save each individual GIS vector layer in KML format. A very quick and effortless process, Maptitude converts the features exactly as they display in the program. The user can select which attributes they would like to convert as well. In Google Earth, the files display very well, without any loss of resolution. The export to KML feature is rather simple however. Although it will satisfy most users, the advanced users will quickly notice that there are no options for customizing the balloon layout, style or colour. There is no support for 3D data - data with height values will be ignored, and there is also no support for labels (a rather large drawback). For those interested in incorporating HTML into their KML files, they will need to do so after the conversion, in Google Earth.

Although files can be exported in KML format, they cannot be opened in Maptitude. Having the ability to open KML files, or at the very least be able to convert from KML to another Maptitude supported format would be a useful feature to have.

Figure 4 - Original Shapefiles were saved to KML format in Maptitude and opened in Google Earth.
Clicking on a feature will display its attribute information.

Usability

All GIS programs differ from one another, but there are several important elements of a professional GIS program that can be considered standard and therefore expected. So how does Maptitude compare? Does it support different projections of GIS data? Does it offer ‘on-the-fly’ projection conversions? Yes, Maptitude’s support for different projections is completely seamless. Does it open map projects from other software programs? Yes, Maptitude will, for example, open ArcView ‘s .apr, but not ArcMap’s .mxd, unfortunately. Does it offer cartographic elements for printing and saving? Does it create a high quality digital map? Does it clip and export rasters? These questions will be looked at in more detail.

When creating a software program, one needs to take into account the fact that most GIS users require two or three programs to meet all of their GIS needs. Some programs have strengths in processing raster imagery, others are strong in digital elevation modeling, and some offer powerful statistical analytical tools. So ideally, a GIS program must offer transferability - enabling the user to process some data in one program, and complete the project in another. Maptitude offers this notion of transferability to some extent, by supporting a large number of file formats, but because it has its own proprietary GIS files, and map files, one cannot start a map project in Maptitude and complete it in another software program. The user can however, edit the GIS files and export them into another file format that is supported by other GIS programs, such as Shapefiles and AutoCAD files.

There is no GIS program on the market that can meet everybody’s needs, because everyone has unique mapping and analysis requirements. However, if Maptitude worked on a few additional features, it will be the closest GIS program on the market to earn the title of the ultimate GIS machine.

Raster Formats

As already mentioned earlier, not all users have the same mapping needs. Some will require specific features in a program that may only be found in certain GIS programs. Take the ability to work with, and to manipulate rasters, for example. Maptitude opens several image file formats, most notably the popular compressed Mr.SID format. Users may want to export a smaller section of the image and work with it either in Maptitude, or in another program. A popular task, for example, is to export MR.SID images into GeoTiffs to work in programs that don’t support Mr.SID files. One of the major downfalls of Maptitude, is that it will not export the image in a georeferenced format (i.e. GeoTiff). So if users are looking for a program that will mosaic several images into one high resolution GeoTiff, Maptitude is not the program to do it in. The ability to process raster images and use them in other programs (GIS, Google Earth Pro, graphic programs) is arguably an imperative feature of a GIS program, and unfortunately not one that exists in Maptitude.

Creating a Map

An essential feature of any GIS software program is the ability to create and display a map with many of the fundamental cartographic elements - legend, scale, north arrow, context map inset, title, and citation. The ability to add tables, and figures is definitely a useful addition as well.

Maptitude will display both raster and vector data simultaneously, and offers several customizable appearance-related features. Raster datasets can be slightly altered by modifying the image contrast, making the image lighter. There is no transparency feature for raster files. Vector data can be symbolized and coloured with a number of choices and again, the user can use the colour-theme wizard to classify features by a specific attribute. Vector files have the option of being either completely opaque or completely transparent. There is no option to select semi-transparency, which is a common element used in map making.

Maptitude has an excellent label utility, permitting users to either label features based on an attribute field, or by manually labelling individual features. Users can select from a list of fonts, sizes and colours as well. The labelling tool also permits users to activate the labels at certain scales.

A map can be created in either the map view, or in layout view. The benefit of using layout view is that more than one item can be added onto a page - one can add an additional map, an attribute table, as well as figures and charts. Whether the user is creating a map in the map view or layout view, the cartographic elements are available in both. The user can add a north arrow, a scale bar and text onto the map. As mentioned earlier, the legend represents all active layers displayed on the map and updates itself automatically whenever the list of layers changes.

The map can be saved in three image file formats: .bmp, .jpg and .png, as well as a few non-image formats such as kml and html. The quality of the output will depend on the file format chosen and whether the map is being saved in map view or layout view. In map view, the user can save the image in high resolution .jpg, .bmp and .png , but unfortunately high resolution and high quality output is not available when saving the map from layout view. Figure Five shows a high resolution map out that was saved from the map view. Figure Six shows the same map, saved in the layout view. Without the same map quality and resolution options available in the layout view, users will most likely find that they will not be able to combine several maps, additional charts or attribute tables and produce a high quality output - especially not for publications. This is a large drawback of the program - offering users beneficial features of layout view, yet the quality of the output is unusable.

There also appears to be a glitch when saving orthoimagery out in high resolution imagery format. During the review of the software, several MrSID images were saved out numerous times to test the quality of the output. Each time, a faint horizontal white line displayed on the saved image. You can see this line near the bottom of the Figure Five.

Figure 5a - Final Map crated in Maptitude. This jpg image was saved in the Map view.
 
Figure 5b - Same map as above, but zoomed in to illustrate preservation of detail.
Due to the high resolution of the image above, vector details can be only made out once zoomed in significantly.
 
Figure 6 - Image saved in Layout view. The resolution of the image is very, very poor.

Conclusion

Maptitude would satisfy any GIS user who is in need of viewing and manipulating geospatial files in a variety of formats, and is interested in analyzing and creating maps with these datasets. There are just a few areas that can use a little improvement, namely enhancing the image export features, as well as the layout quality output. However, Maptitude does an exceptional job catering towards novice GIS users with an easy-to-learn-and-use mapping program, as well as to the advanced GIS users who may benefit from the vast array of analytical tools available, as well as the GIS Developer’s Kit (GISDK). Maptitude also offers some very unique feature that other GIS programs do not, confirming that they are indeed aware of their user market, catering towards professionals who require quick, visual, and professional-looking results.

- Published December, 2009


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