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SpatialNews Product Review

* ThinkSpace
* Rick's Website

MFworks V2.6 for Windows

By: Rick Gray (

My experience with MFworks has been primarily from a teaching perspective and this software review is a result of that experience. MFworks is a powerful raster GIS that is so easy to use that students are well under way on their projects 20 minutes after booting the computer for the first time. Yet its ease of use is deceptive. An intuitive interface combined with a very flexible legend editor and a comprehensive, well- designed on-line help (including lots of examples) make this software an ideal teaching tool. Its extensive map operations and powerful map algebra also make it a great tool for just about any mapping, modeling, and visualization need. You can even use its powerful raster capabilities in conjunction with Intergraph’s Geomedia software and ESRI’s ArcView. MFworks comes in both Windows and MacOS versions.

System Requirements

  • Minimum 486DX2/66Mhz pr higher processor (Pentium 90 or better recommended).
  • VGA or higher resolution monitor (SVGA recommended)
  • 800 X 600 minimum resolution
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Microsoft Windows 95/98, NT 4.0 or higher
  • Mac0S 7.5.6 or higher
  • 16 MB RAM (32 MB recommended).
  • 20 MB free disk space (min. installation, documentation runs from CD)
  • 100 MB free disk space (max. installation)
  • 10 MB available space after install

MFworks supports all standard Windows output devices that use PCL or PostScript languages.

What you get

Dependent on package selected.

MFworks standard and MFworks for GeoMedia includes:
- MFworks CD ROM with MFguide
- MFworks Tutorial Manual (printed and bound)

MFworks Student Edition includes:
- MFworks CD ROM with MFguide


Student Edition max map size is 1000 rows X 1000 columns (1 million cells) MFworks for GeoMedia required GeoMedia 3+ or GeoMedia 4+ not included.


MFworks standard: US$900
Educational pricing: US$200 - $400 per seat depending on volume.
Student Edition: US$100
MFworks for GeoMedia US$2000 (Educational pricing available)

What I Like About MFworks

There is a lot to like about MFworks. Most importantly, the developers have provided a lot of right-click functionality. In most Operations, you can right click and get a context-sensitive list of functions to choose from (Figure 1). Also, many of the operations use very clear “wizards” that provide quick, fill-in-the-blank windows (Figure 2). Below are listed the top 10 features I like about MFworks, features that also make it a great teaching tool.

Image 1: right-clicking reveals a context-sensitive list of functions

Image 2: Wizards provide quick, fill-in-the-blank windows

1. Quick Tour and MFguide. These two pdf documents contain pretty much all you need to know to operate MFworks. Quick Tour covers a brief history of the product, then gets you up and running fast, with lots of “Let’s try that!” examples. MFguide, available from the Help menu, is a comprehensive, searchable document that covers all aspects of the software’s functionality. It comes complete with a “How do I?” section, a “Suggested Reading” section, as well as Contents, Index, Translators, Operations, and Applications sections (Figure 3). Although the document may at first appear overwhelming, it is so logically laid out - with a very detailed contents section - that it doesn’t take long to find what you are looking for.

Image 3: Searchable documents, online help, and related documents

2. The Project Window. When you open MFworks, a Project window holds all the relevant map files in a “Windows Explorer”-type tree, including path names. This makes navigating through your project a snap (Figure 4). It also makes keeping an eye on your project’s contents very easy.

Image 4: MFworks Project window

3. Legend Flexibility. Without a doubt, this is the feature I like the best. Legend editor is so flexible and functional that you can manipulate your map in more ways than you imagined possible. To begin with, the Legend window can display more than just a simple legend (Figure 5). For each zone on the map (groups of cells having the same value) you can choose to display any, or all, of: the pixel colour, its value, the area (number of cells, cm2, m2 or hectares), the relative percentage of the map for each zone, the total of the value element times the area element, and a readily editable legend text.

Image 5: Legend window

Beyond the display of values and text, the legend is customizable in many ways. A histogram of the value frequency can be created. Ranges of legend entries can be collapsed into logical groups without any loss of information. Colours can be selected from a complete colour wheel or you can choose from RBG, CMY, and HSL options. Colour ramps can be created for the entire legend or for just portions of it (Figure 6). The ramps can be created as a sequential change, or can be based on change in zone values or zone area.

Image 6: Colour ramps can be created for the entire legend

You can also import text files into the legend. This permits you to create maps from scratch in MFworks, then create complex legends in your favourite word processor. You can also export legend information for use in another program.

4. Small file size. All the files we created MFworks for our course were typically less than ½ the size of the same files in IDRISI format (some were less than ¼ the size). This is an asset for teaching because our students were able to keep all their work on a 3.5” floppy. I have not compared large maps or other formats, but suspect that size savings will be proportional.

5. Import/Export. A long list of formats may be imported into MFworks. These include ARC/Info (ungenerate), SHP (ArcView shapefile), BMP, BNA, DEM, DXF, EMF, GIF, MIF/MID (MapInfo Interchange), EMF (enhance metafile), Raw Binary, SDTS, SYLK, Tab delimited grid (text), TIFF and XYZ pointfile (text). Maps can be exported to BMP, EMF, GIF, raw binary, SYLK, Tab delimited grid, TIFF and XYZ pointfile formats.

6. Operations menu. For anyone who has struggled through the learning curve of other GIS software, you will like the ease of performing operations on your maps in MFworks. The Operation menu drops down a long list of all the most commonly used functions. Selecting one immediately opens a wizard - complete with a context sensitive dialogue box for each function - that allows you to quickly carry out your task (Figure 7).

Image 7: Wizard - complete with a context sensitive dialogue box

7. Tracking map history (Comment window). The Comment window keeps a running tab of steps you have followed in creating your map (Figure 8). You can even annotate the text with additional comments, changing the font colour, size, etc. This is great for creating step by step instructions for others to follow.

Image 8: Comment Window

8. Scripting. Programmers, beware! If other software manufacturers follow suit, you may be out of a job. All the power of MFworks can be programmed into a script using plain English (Figure 9). Even better, if you aren’t sure of the syntax, right- click and a drop-down menu appears, allowing you to drop in the correct statements. Or, you can copy and paste blocks of text from the Comment window to save time. Batch processing, extensive mathematical manipulation of map layers, and system commands like map saving and importing, these can all be done in a Script window. And the Script window is a text document that can be opened in your favourite word processor for editing.

Image 9: MFworks can be programmed into a script

9. Map Layout window. The map Layout window allows you to arrange all your map elements (legend, scale, north arrow, etc.) prior to printing. Icons make the insertion of these elements a snap. For example, when you click on the Map Coordinate Overlay button, you have a choice of graticule styles to choose from. When you insert a scale, it is set automatically based on the scale of the map element and the cell resolution (i.e. if your map is in km, your scale bar won’t show up as miles, as in one popular software package I have used). Multiple formats are available and, what is really nice, the scale bar is automatically sized to a logical number of units (Figure 10). There are multiple ways of adding text, and pictures (e.g. logos, etc.) can be readily pasted from the clipboard.

Image 10: Scale bar is automatically sized to a logical number of units

10. Very Helpful Tech Support. Last, but not least, the folks at ThinkSpace bend over backwards to help you solve your problems. If you have a problem that the MFguide cannot answer, help is a quick phone-call or email away. Not only are they able to help, but they are eager to incorporate useful suggestions into upcoming versions of the software. The advantage of dealing with a smaller, up-and-coming company is that you get very personal support.


As with all software, there are bound to be things that you don’t like. After using MFworks for a while, I began to develop a “wish list” of features that I felt would enhance the software. The folks at ThinkSpace have assured me that my wish list has been added to their wish list for future versions.

1. Mulitple Undo. For those of us who change our minds a lot, this is an essential feature. One undo is just not enough.

2. Zoom window. I found that the incremental zoom feature that MFworks uses is OK for most things, but it would be nice to be able drag a window and zoom to a specified area.

3. Open multiple maps simultaneously. Although you can load multiple maps into the project window at the same time, you cannot open more than one of those maps at a time. This can result in extra steps when you open your project. (This feature is apparently already available in the MacOS version.)

4. Ability to group objects in a Layout (as in MS PowerPoint). Although you can select multiple objects (map elements) in the layout window and move them, the inability to group them means that you are not able to treat them as a single object for resizing, putting a border around them, etc. Although there are work arounds, I found it less convenient than I would have liked.


Overall, I found MFworks to be an ideal tool for teaching raster GIS. I contacted several users around the world before we made the final decision to buy the product, and their comments all mirrored my own. ThinkSpace also produces MFteach, an educational package geared to the secondary school level using MFworks.

An excellent article in the May 2000 issue of GEOWorld about raster GIS packages compares MFworks to a host of other products (the article can also be found at Check out the product at, download a demo version and a copy of QuickTour and try it yourself. I think you’ll be impressed.

After looking at several other packages, the combination of price, capabilities, and ease of use made MFworks our first choice. We have not been disappointed!

About the Author -- Rick Gray holds a B.Sc. in Environmental Science from the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada with a major in Natural Resources Management (area of emphasis - Landscape Ecology). He recently completed a Master’s degree at Guelph. Rick's M.Sc. research involved mapping the 3-dimensional distribution of tree roots in a temperate agroforestry intercropping system using GIS. During his Master’s degree, Rick provided GIS consulting services to faculty, students, municipal governments and private business. Rick has also taught introductory courses in GIS and in scientific writing and regularly give talks on “Effective PowerPoint Presentations”. His GIS interests are varied and range from agro-environmental issues to landscape ecology to municipal planning. Rick is a strong believer in the necessity of cartographic excellence in GIS and currently lives in Guelph, Ontario.

Any reproduction, copying, or use of the material contained in this article without first contacting the author and SpatialNews is prohibited.

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