December 05, 2005
From Autodesk University 2005: Infrastructure Solutions Division Update
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! The Industry Session on the Infrastructure Solutions Division (ISD) at Autodesk University (AU) 2005 included the announcement that Autodesk is releasing the code for MapServer Enterprise, the company's new web mapping platform, as open source. Some may wonder why Autodesk would do this, but it is not all that surprising in view of the direction many governments are taking with regard to open source (see GISWeekly's
Free Open Source Moves In). Read more about this and other ISD announcements in this week's Industry News.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Acquisitions/Agreements/Alliances, Announcements, Appointments, Awards, Contracts, New Products, Moves, Letters to the Editor, and Upcoming Events.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me

Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

From Autodesk University 2005: Infrastructure Solutions Division Update

By Susan Smith

In a press conference at Autodesk University 2005 this week, Chris Bradshaw, vice president of the Infrastructure Solutions Division, asked the audience what the difference was between a first world and a third world country. His answer: three days. He noted that it took three days for New Orleans to decline into anarchy after Hurricane Katrina. The decimation of a source of fresh water and the inability to dispose of wastewater safely became critical. “We take this for granted in a first world country,” said Bradshaw. “But third world countries don't have this.”

While you may have a “yes-but-what's-that-got-to-do-with-me?” type response, the truth is, the hurricanes have shown us in a very short space of time what it might be like to not have all those gifts that we take for granted. What Bradshaw brought to our attention is the critical need for infrastructure - refurbishment and building-- globally. Whether first or third world or in between, governments worldwide recognize the need to develop an underlying technology structure independent of software vendors that can serve their infrastructure requirements.

The Industry Session on the Infrastructure Solutions Division (ISD) included the announcement that Autodesk is releasing the code for MapServer Enterprise, the company's new web mapping platform, as open source. Some may wonder why Autodesk would do this, but it is not all that surprising in view of the direction many governments are taking with regard to open source (see GISWeekly's
Free Open Source Moves In). As reported in that article, Norway's Minister of Modernization Morten Andreas Meyer announced at a press conference in Oslo in July that "Proprietary formats will no longer be acceptable in communication between citizens and government." His new information technology plan in Norway - "eNorge 2009 - the digital leap", charges all government institutions, both at the national and local level, to work out a recommendation for the use of open source code in the public sector by the end of 2005. By the end of 2006 everyone working in the public sector in Norway must have
in place a plan for the use of open source code and open standards.

I reported back then that “After announcements such as this, you can hardly expect the big players to remain silent.” Microsoft had already been working with open source products and has shown interest in adopting some aspects of the open source model. The product, DotNetNuke from Microsoft, is open source. The company expects to expand its release of source code for open source (which it has already begun). Hardly a surprise, then, that other software vendors would follow suit.

At AU, Bradshaw said that the MapServer Enterprise source code is available for viewing. through the MapServer Foundation, an independent non-profit organization whose mission it is to support and promote open source web mapping. Charter members of the foundation include MapServer Technical Steering Committee members, Autodesk, DM Solutions Group, and the University of Minnesota MapServer Project.

MapServer has been around a long time, originally known as the University of Minnesota (UMN) MapServer or simply "MapServer". Created by Steve Lime, chair of the MapServer Steering Committee, it has been available as an open source web mapping environment since 1997. Now called MapServer Cheetah so as to differentiate it from MapServer Enterprise, it was developed as a “small, fast, and customizable web map server built on top of other popular open source software libraries including: GDAL/OGR, Proj.4, Shapelib, GD, FreeType, among others. It supports dozens of vector formats through OGR and over 40 raster data formats through GDAL. Natively it supports ESRI shapefiles, TIFF/GeoTIFF,
JPEG, and EPPL-7 raster formats and ArcSDE, PostGIS, and Oracle Spatial databases. It can run as a CGI application using Apache or IIS web servers or scripted through several programming languages including Perl, Python, PHP, Java and more. MapServer Cheetah is known to run on Linux, most versions of Unix, Microsoft Windows and Mac OSX.”

The development community has enhanced MapServer Cheetah since its initial release with capabilities such as dynamic reprojection, support for multiple formats and interoperability standards (Open Geospatial Consortium's web services specifications and OPeNDAP, the scientific community's interoperability protocol), scripting/programming interface (MapScript), and support from thriving client-side tools. MapServer Cheetah is primarily a server-side software application with basic but highly customizable facilities for making client interfaces. It now enjoys more than 10,000 downloads a month.

According to the press literature, MapServer Enterprise (previously code named “Tux”) is a new web mapping platform that enables developers to “rapidly develop and deploy valuable spatial applications. It works with the latest PHP, .NET, and Java tools to quickly build powerful applications for Microsoft Windows or Linux server environments (the same code exists on both platforms). Developers can also easily publish spatial views internally or over the web, using either an AJAX-based viewer or Autodesk's DWF plug-in viewer for offline portability.” Users can also browse using Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

Autodesk plans to offer a commercial version of the product called Autodesk MapServer Enterprise in 2006, along with an authoring environment which will handle geospatial data collection and preparing data for distribution over the internet. Autodesk MapServer Studio will allow users to collect geospatial data, author maps and layers to be stored in one place.

It is billed as the replacement to Autodesk MapGuide, which will still be available and supported for those who want it. However, MapGuide will go into more of a maintenance mode. In comparing the two, Bradshaw said that MapGuide had only ActiveX technology, whereas MapServer Enterprise will have DWF and AJAX. AJAX has no ActiveX functionality, however, it is raster based. The DWF viewer is vector based, and provides the ability to print to scale, mobile, offline support, is tied to Internet Explorer and is Windows-based. Otherwise, DWF and AJAX have the same functionality, i.e., dynamic pan zoom, scale dependent detail, feature selection, tool tips and hyperlinks.

With MapServer Enterprise, users will be able to write their applications within their server environment and work with either viewer on any client. The MapServer Enterprise supports enhanced stylization, i.e., - true color support, polygon fill transparency, advanced labeling, segmented lines, etc. Feature data objects allow access to ArcSDE, Oracle, SQL Server, etc.

The company's R&D focus will go into MapServer Enterprise and the applications that can be built on top of it. Where Autodesk intends to make its money, obviously, is on the applications they can build on top of the platform and, as with other open source offerings, in service and support.

A preliminary release of MapServer Enterprise, including full source, is available by visiting MapServer Enterprise
Download MapServer Enterprise source code, installers and documentation. Also visit
Autodesk ISD for Map Server Studio and Enterprise.

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-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.


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