Tag Archives: ESRI

ESRI DevSummit 2011: Daz(zl)ed and Confused

As I am flying back to Charlotte from another ESRI DevSummit, my head is awash in a storm of possibility, hope, and worry.  This conference is head-and-shoulders above any other conference on my radar in relevance and utility to my career.  Every year I leave amazed at how far ESRI has come with it’s product suite, particularly on the server-side, and every year I feel overwhelmed at what I don’t know and what I am not doing.  The ESRI developer community has exploded from a collection of people that couldn’t install Tomcat to a sophisticated, intelligent set of technical ninjas.  Watching this change from my perspective has been interesting and extremely humbling, as sometimes I feel like I am a part of something great, and sometimes I feel like I am falling behind.  All things considered, though, it is a great time to be a GIS and ESRI developer.

Reviewing the content of the conference, as i am prone to do each year, I would have to say the overarching theme was mobile, mobile, and more mobile.  Of course, I live on the server, so I didn’t give and desktop sessions a second glance.  I focused mostly on the Flex and Javascript APIs, as I simply don’t have room in my arsenal for another web API (sorry Silverlight.  I will say that the demo of the week was probably the Kinect map demo given by @SharpGIS.)  The Flex sessions are always great, especially if Mansour Raad is presenting.  His energy and knowledge truly make him unique among presenters.  He showed off Flex “Burrito”, which is the code name for the preview release of the next Flex IDE.  Burrito allows a developer to target Blackberry, Android, and (wait for it…) iPhone devices with Flex.  Mansour showed off a few apps running on Android and iOS, which is crazy if you think where Flash on the iPhone was only a year ago.  The maturation of the REST API lead to demonstrations of more sophisticated editing scenarios on the web, making me wonder if the future of ArcMap isn’t the Flex Viewer (or other API “viewers”)  The javascript team showed similar demos, focusing on iOS (both iPad and iPhone) with HTML 5 goodness.  I really though the drag-and-drop demonstration, which showed a CSV of points being dropped on a web page and added to the map, as well as dropping a map service URL onto the map to add it to the map content, was particularly impressive.  There is a part of me that really thinks HTML 5 is the end game for the web, even if Flex can still do some things that HTML cannot.

One of the items that Mansour and the Flex team showed was a pre-release version of the Flex Viewer Application Builder.  The Builder allows a user to, basically, point and click their way to a Flex Viewer, choosing basemaps, operational layers, and tools/widgets.  The goal is to allow them to avoid having to edit XML and all the pain that comes with doing that.  Being honest, I am not all that excited about such a tool.  Also, I am not sure that showing a “no-need-for-a-developer” tool at a developers summit is really playing well to the demographic.  My guess is that Silverlight and javascript will follow suit, and we’ll have many clients feeling they can cut out development shops and live with what ESRI has created.  Expanding on this theme a bit, the very existence of a *supported* viewer from the vendor could be problematic as well.  In my opinion, this can potentially kill innovation around the web APIs.  Why, as a client trying to save money, would I choose to create  a custom web mapping application, when the vendor has a viewer that is supported?  The answer is, in most cases, I wouldn’t.  So, as ESRI developers, we will be mostly relegated to viewer configuration or, if we are lucky, custom widget creation.  Plus, the client base of the APIs becomes 99% ESRI supported viewer and 1% demos that no one would really use.  I talked to a few developers about this and opinions varied from what I expressed above to “nah, it’ll be OK, there will always be enough GIS development work”  I am not sure what the answer is, as I understand why ESRI created the viewers.  They are doing what they feel is best for their clients.  I can’t really fault them for that.  However, I think every year ESRI eats a little bit more into the realm of their business partners, and the effect of that will be seen with ESRI partners having to move to other business or failing outright.

There, enough with the gloom-and-doom.  The mood around the conference was overwhelmingly positive, if not sycophantic.  Coming back, my fellow devs and I are discussing how we are going to get more mobile, more cloudy, and more better.  Despite my aforementioned worries, I am recharged as in previous years.  If you didn’t attend the conference, you should watch some of the sessions.  Almost all the ones I attended were excellent.  This includes the user presentations, which I’ll review now.

Starting at the bottom of the user presentation barrel, my talk on using jQuery to create a legend for the ArcGIS Server javascript API was OK.  I made some pretty bad slide choices (code on a black background is not the way to go) and I had a couple of clumsy holy-crap-he-just-hit-the-microphone-and-blew-out-my-eardrums moments.  On the positive side, a couple of folks came up afterwards and talked to me about using what I’d done, which is always reassuring.  On the super-fantastic-presentation end of the users, you had the usual suspects for the most part.  The DTS Agile crew (@dbouwman and @bnoyle) gave near perfect presentations on HTML 5, the cloud, and Flex pixel bending.  Kirk van Gork (@kvangork) may have stole the show with his presentation on making apps that “Don’t Suck”, which I did not attend but will be watching this week, for sure.  Another really great presentation was on using MongoDB to create a Feature Cache.  This presentation was done by a (for gawd’s sake) 21-yr old Brazilian developer who informed us he had never presented before.  I was thoroughly impressed with this poised and intelligent young man, and you should definitely give that presentation a look.

Well, the plane has started the initial descent into Charlotte.  I am ready to be home and thankful for another wonderful DevSummit.  If you have any questions about sessions or the like, feel free to hit me on Twitter or comment on this post.  Go forth and spread the Word of the GeoNerd.


2010 ESRI Dev Summit Wrap Up

Back in Charlotte after another lively ESRI Developers Summit.  I went back and read my impressions from last year, and have to say that they were hit and miss.  You could replace last year’s impressions mentioning 9.4, with some mentioning 10 (the new and improved 9.4) and it would at least partially apply.  New stuff this year to get your inner (and outer) GIS nerd in a frenzy are:

  • Editing from the web.  The new FeatureLayer in the REST (and, thus, the various web) API is the big deal.  Simple editing of GIS data from the web.  In my oft-hyperbolic opinion, this is a game changer.
  • Attachements support in the REST API.  I have mixed feelings about this, as it seems that ESRI might be trying to make the geodatabase the everything-base, but I guess attachments are just another kind of data.  I can see cases where we’d use this, but I plan to be very careful…
  • Scriptable REST admin (my sessions were almost all either REST or Flex or both), which could be very useful.
  • REST-enabled Server Object Extensions (SOE) look very promising as well.
  • The Flex API has AMF support at 10.  Truthfully, I’ve not done much with AMF in Flex, but I understand it’s superdy-duperdy fast.  That’s on the immediate todo list.
  • Also on the Flex side, although not ESRI specific, is the release of Flex 4.  I went to a couple of sessions where they demoed Flash Catalyst, Flash Builder, and the new workflow.  I finally understand what Catalyst is, which is a good thing.  Depending on it’s cost, we may or may not use it.
  • Various small bits, like point clustering being supported by the GraphicsLayer, complete with a cool “flare-out” symbol.

This year was the second where users were allowed to present.  I presented on Cairngorm 3 and best practices in Flex.  I thought the presentation when as well as I could have hoped.  The slidedeck and code are available, and you can find all that information here.  The app I used basically allows the user to draw a polygon around NFL stadiums in the US and then click on the selected stadiums to see a pop-up with an aerial view of that stadium.  Cairngorm 3 and Parsley made it very easy to create the app, and the amount of code I had to write is shockingly little.

I will say I was surprised at the number of Flex vs Silverlight developers this year.  Last year, I wrote about Silverlight being the Queen of the Ball, with most developers I knew going to all SL sessions.  The buzz was much bigger about SL then, which was a 180 turn-around this year.  All of the Flex sessions seemed to be packed, and the buzz was Flex-heavy.  I didn’t actually go to any SL sessions, but I heard more than one developer say that the sessions seemed less full than last year.  Maybe it’s an alternating year thing or something.  Or maybe the release of Flex 4 on the Monday of the summit had something to do with it.  If you are a Sliverlight developer, please bear in mind that I don’t really care if Flex or SL has more “buzz” or attendees, but I just find the dynamic between the two camps and their respective APIs mildly interesting.

For more info, you can go to ESRI’s Dev Summit site and watch plenary videos as well as all tech sessions.    The user sessions aren’t posted yet, but they’re coming.  If I think about it, I’ll post a link to mine when it comes online.  Oh, and if you checkout the Twitter #devsummit tag, you’ll see a mountain of info and links for your perusing pleasure.

It was a great conference, as always.  Already looking forward to next year.


2010 ESRI Developers Summit

So, I’m off to the ESRI Dev Summit next week to meet and learn from a legend (the official unit of measure of geonerds) of geonerds.  I will be giving a user presentation on using Cairngorm 3 to create testable applications with ArcGIS Server.  The presentation is all but done, and I’ll have links to the slides as well as the source I use for the demo app once the conference is over.  I am very interested in some of the other user presentations, which span the gamut of what can be done with ArcGIS and a bit of nerd elbow grease.  I’ll definitely be attending the Ruby/Rails based user presentations, as well as some of the other Flex and javascript-based presos.  Just like last year, I’ll not likely go to any Silverlight presentations, simply because we are not currently using Silverlight.

If you’re going to be in Palm Springs this year and want to have a pint or ten, hit me on twitter (@ruprictGeek).  For what I do, the ESRI Developers Summit is far-and-away the most relevant and important conference, so the more geonerds I can meet, the better.

Hope to see you there!


ESRI Developer Summit Impressions

I am returning to Charlotte in the morning after a nerd-vigorating week in Palm Springs at the ESRI Developers Summit.  If you didn’t get a chance to go, don’t fret as ESRI is posting all of the sessions and code from the week.  Overall, I’ll have to say that this was a great event and the best developers summit yet.   Seeing all of our GIS nerd peers from around the world is often interesting and always informative.

The plenary session highlighted much of what is coming in 9.3.1 and 9.4, not the least of which was ArcExplorer 900.  It’s been Office 2007-ized (ribbon, etc) and is a world away from the previous versions of AGX.  The coolest feature is a Presentation Mode that allows you to create “slides” that include maps and graphics and other things that will likely make it my presentation tool of choice.  It starts an open beta (I think) on April 6th, so get in on it and see what I am talking about.

The ArcGIS Online sharing options that are coming in 9.3.1 are interesting as well.  Fueled by the introduction of “layer packages” which allow you to package data and symbology together.  This data can be uploaded to ArcGIS Online and shared with your friends or the whole planet.  Picture clicking on a hyperlink and having ArcMap open and data being added to the map document.  It was pretty sassy.    ArcGIS Online also has a ton more basemaps, with Virtual Earth basemaps on the way.

Other tidbits:

  • 9.4 and RESTful editing with ArcGIS Server.  I think that will change the game completely, making ArcMap the tool of the serious cartographer while allowing the data owners to change the data.
  • Also, 9.4 comes with major changes to the GDB Schema by reducing the number of tables from 35 to FOUR (that’s right, FOUR).
  • The ArcGIS Server Silverlight API was probably the queen of the ball, with much of the Twittersphere fawning over it.

I went a bit against the grain, forgoing the Silverlight sessions for the Flex sessions.  The Flex sessions were really good, showing how to cluster point data, create custom tool tips for features,  perform thematic mapping. and create geodetically correct circles.   The next version of the api (1.2) will add routing support as it’s being added to the REST api.   I asked about adding automation support to the Flex controls, and was told they are “looking into it”  I hope so.  We are doing more and more with Flex and I plan to harvest more goodies from the summit code samples.

New this year at the summit they added user presentaions, and I attended quite a few:

  • Dave Bouwman did a presentaion on User Testing 101.  Dave’s presentations are always good, and this is a topic that was dear to my heart.
  • Brian Noyle did a bit on ASP.NET MVC, which was so packed that I could only admire it from afar.
  • Chris Spagnuolo on Introduction to Agile Development was incredible.  I am going to try and get everyone at my company to watch this presentation.
  • Vish Uma on Harnessing Server Object Extensions was highly informative.  I think Vish may be the smartest guy I know.

I think my surprise session of the week was OGC Capacities of ArcGIS Server.  AGS has always has WMS, WFS, and (later) WCS support and I have never really paid much attention to them.   Our latest project has some OGC needs, so I decided to attend this session, and I am so glad I did.  Right now, at 9.3, AGS supports WFS Transactions (WFS-T) which is a standard I first heard about in that session.  In a nutshell, this means you can perform edits (insert, update, delete) of GDB features RIGHT NOW.  I had no idea this was possible.   Also, custom styling of features with SLDs means you can easily define multiple styles for your features.  In fact, 9.3.1 or 9.4 will add the ability to to on-the-fly styling using “SLD BODY” (another thing I just learned about)  which is something that we need as well.  I feel like the OGC stuff is the best kept secret of AGS.

Anotehr new item this year was the presence of Twitter.  The #devsummit hashtag was tweet-heavy and, for the first time, Twitter became a very, very useful part of my conference life.  This is where the idea of Twitter really shines and I can finally say that I get it.

So, head on over the the ESRI Developer Summit site, start watching presentations, and downloading code.  Oh, and get on the Twittersphere if you aren’t (I am @ruprictGeek, if you wanna follow….)

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