Power User: Mapping software, hardware deliver on promises

John McCormick

After writing a negative column about office wireless products [GCN, Feb. 23, Page 21], I'm delighted this month to report that DeLorme Publishing Co. of Yarmouth, Maine, is still turning out solid products.

I've reviewed Global Positioning System software and hardware for years. DeLorme's has always been affordable, even its most sophisticated professional application, and has never disappointed me.

A new GPS unit was at the top of my list for my new Gateway Inc. tablet PC. I bought DeLorme's tiny, 12-channel, 175-milliwatt Earthmate receiver powered through a USB connection.
It's compatible with the Federal Aviation Administration's Wide Area Augmentation System for GPS, and it came with some valuable software.

GPS PostPro 2.0, a submeter-scale application for desktop and notebook PCs, can also do data collection with Palm OS or Pocket PC systems equipped with any of DeLorme's Earthmate receivers, including a wireless Bluetooth version.

Although PostPro displays current coordinates, its real job is to record position data for later processing. Also valuable is DeLorme's XMap 4.5 software, a core display application that shows roads, contours and other GPS-linked images from additional data sets.

XMap is usable by itself but can link to millions of street and phone listings, 3-D Geological Survey quadrangle maps and colorized 10-meter satellite imagery data sets.

XMap requires the Microsoft SQL Server database management system and can install a personal version if necessary.

One feature I really like is XMap's twin map and image view, which lets you view both a large map and some of its details simultaneously. One big problem with GPS apps has always been that, if you magnify an image for greater accuracy, you can easily get lost and keep switching back and forth between scales. This graphics-intensive task eats up a lot of time and battery power.

DeLorme, at www.delorme.com, also offers consumer applications for travelers finding their way around new areas. These maps are no less detailed, they just run without XMap.

The $50 Street Atlas USA, for example, appears to use the same data set as the USA Street Network, which requires XMap, but the standalone Street Atlas is all you need for vehicle navigation. Street Atlas Plus adds a phonebook database to the Street Atlas application and lets you annotate the maps.

At $200, plus $50 for the USA Street Network data set, XMap is a full-blown professional mapping system, as are two other versions that include geographic information system analysis tools.

XMap has many uses in public safety, land management and civil engineering. In addition to using published maps and other data sets, it can import ACT contact management data and Microsoft Excel and text files for display on maps.

The split screen not only lets you show different map magnifications, it can also display maps alongside satellite and other imagery.

An XMap instant routing feature'just select start, intermediate and end points'will draw and accurately measure your route. XMap can link Census 2000 economic and population data to any location.

I've skipped over 2-D versus 3-D and shading options for the map display, along with map annotation options, but you get the picture. XMap installs easily, works as advertised and has a permanent home on my tablet PC.

The $300, standalone PostPro 2.0 software is much more specialized and provides accuracy better than a meter within 32 miles of a remote station. It has tools for working with receiver-independent exchange format files, static and dynamic baselines, automatic correction against reference stations and output to various file formats.

A less-expensive PostPro version, priced at $100 with a new Earthmate receiver, works with XMap.

The ability to annotate and tie GPS maps to various databases is critical for everything from disaster management and emergency services to simple maintenance tasks. Any agency field worker who totes a notebook needs GPS capability on it.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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