FME Suite X2 from Safe Software

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Welcome to GISWeekly! This week GISWeekly features a Guest Review of Safe Software's FME Suite X2 by Jeff Thurston of Vector One in Berlin, Germany.

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Industry News Review: FME Suite X2
Safe Software
By Jeff Thurston


The Feature Manipulation Engine (FME Suite X2) is a new product from Safe Software. It includes three main components - translator, transformation editor and a viewer. Additional tools for coordinate conversion and developers are available.

    *FME Translator - Translates between more than 100 different formats including most popular formats such as ESRI SHP, Intergraph SQL Server Warehouse, FRAMME and MGE, MapInfo, IDRISI, Autodesk, ASCII tabular, CSV, NTF, Access, SICAD, USGS. This product translates GML 2.0 files and many other formats including several national formats for various countries. Both ESRI Geodatabase, GE Smallworld and Intergraph GeoMedia require installation of the application software in the Desktop Version.

The FME Suite for Oracle Version provides full access and translation functionality for ESRI geodatabase - SDE - Grid, Intergraph GeoMedia and SQL Server, GML 2.0, Oracle 7, 8i, 9i and Oracle Spatial.

    * FME Workbench - A graphical display that provides a quick effective means for visualizing the transformation process - where data sources are originating and their destinations. FME Translation can work from within the visual environment. Several options for creating elements within the Workbench are available including spacing, insert, text, shapes and sizes for editing the visual layout.

    *FME Universal Viewer - Provides a close inspection of the data. Graphical display of a file including points, lines and areas, together with their attributes and values. Coordinate dimensions, bounding box and coordinate listings are provided.

Usefulness and Uniqueness

FME Suite X2
Most users of spatial information contend with translation and transformation of data - and usually find it time consuming, frustrating and difficult. FME Suite X2 is designed to erase these problems and it does. Not only does FME Suite X2 allow the user to perform spatial data translation easier, it provides unique functionality by way of the FME Workbench for doing so visually. Users may work in either the Translator alone or Workbench or both - they work together. I found myself initially working with the Translator for single files, but because I have files scattered all over the computer in different directories and formats, I quickly moved to the Workbench. This provided a visual means to see where sources originated from as well as the destinations where results were being stored. The names and functions between files are graphically visible. Why is that useful? Aside from quickly seeing where you are working and on which files, the environment can be saved that's a big deal when one has dozens of files they are working on and consolidating.

To truly understand what FME Suite X2 is doing one has to understand that spatial data translation is not as simple as it sounds. Those who have work with translation and transformation often know that different software products use their own 'schema' and that while it is possible to connect between various products, often anomalies in the form of lost definitions arise.

In a simplified manner - think of it like language translation. You may speak a word in the English language and try to decipher it directly into the German or Swedish language but cannot completely. That is, each language (or software) uniquely entails its own structure and meaning for the word to be understood. FME Suite X2 looks at the details of each language and determines the best translation considering the two structures and their definitions - so there is no data loss. It also does so for projections, ellipsoids and datums. This is important.

GML is rapidly growing internationally. FME Suite X2 supports the GML 2.0 Specification - something Ordnance Survey UK is presently employing and will likely expand to other data organizations. ISO Laser Scan Gothic and ORACLE Spatial Relational are supported as well as Open Source translation for PostGIS. The inclusion of IDRISI translation capability is useful because so many users of IDRISI can now benefit from the easy-to-use and broad translation capabilities of FME Suite X2. This software also provides the capability to inspect data files without opening them.

Data Loading - Import/Export

Data can be loaded (source) into FME Suite X2 two different ways. The first involves opening the spatial data file in the Translator and then setting the destination (output) parameters. Using this method the data is processed on-screen then stored to the new data file. One file may be translated at a time or 'batch mode' may be used providing the files to be translated are of similar format.

The second method involves using the Workbench. Simply drag a file(s) to the workbench as the 'source data' file and create a 'destination data' file. Specific feature definitions may be chosen and filtering of values is possible. In essence, this is like 'clipping' a thematic layer but without having GIS software to do it.

I worked with several files ranging from 500 KB up to 30 MB in size. The formats were in ESRI shapefile, GeoMedia Professional Access, MapInfo, DWG, NTF, DXF, ORACLE and IDRISI and I exported them to each other and to GML 2.0. Some I even exported to Swedish, British and Danish national formats.

I found this software to be fast. Importing 80,000 data points (x, y, z) from a GeoMedia dataset then translating them to IDRISI vector format took 52 seconds. Most users will probably find it takes less than 10 seconds to translate many of their common datasets - often below 3 seconds. A large number of projections and datums are translated easily. FME Suite X2 is also capable of making VRML and Macromedia Flash translations. I was able to create several Internet maps in SWF format.

Installation and Support:

    * Several movies can be downloaded that provide information about FME 2003 X2 and the FAQ files provide useful information.

    * Safe Software also provides training and workshops with documentation online.

    * Annual Maintenance Contracts are available.

    * Several Online Community Support Groups can be viewed.

Trying and Buying:

A free 14-day trial of the software is available and can be downloaded. The product is downloaded, then installed and the user obtains a 10 digit Registration Key online and simply clicks on the file when received to enable it. Alternatively, the full product may be purchased online.

Reviewer Comments:

Usefulness: Most spatial data users today have numerous translation needs - most proprietary software includes import/export capability but nowhere near the extent that this software does - this is powerful translation software, decreasing data translation issues considerably. This program will probably handle all the translation and transformations you would ever require.

Use/Features: I started from scratch and was translating numerous data formats and exporting in formats for web use within a day. FME X2 is easy-to-use and the Workbench through its graphical interface is exceptional for seeing what is going on and where - allowing the user to conceptualize the processes quickly. The drag and drop graphic environment speeds up operations significantly.

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