MapInfo Pro branches out
GCN Lab Review | Updated GIS platform adds new ways to visualize data on a map
Collecting information such as the addresses of disaster victims can help get aid to the right place or plan for future problems, but if you can't visualize the data in context'it's just letters floating on a screen.
MapInfo Professional Version 8.5, a geographic information system, can access your data wherever it resides and help make it work for you in real time. It's almost like an add-on application to your existing database program and works with Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle. The GCN Lab set it up with SQL Server.
Once you have all data for an area collected and have loaded MapInfo, you've got to bring the two together. A simple menu command, 'Geocoding Using Server,' gets the process started.
You can either generate the map intelligence in-house, which would be a long process, or you can link to the MapInfo Envinsa server, which is constantly updated with information about road changes and other location-based data. With MapInfo running on a modest 2-GHz Windows XP Professional client system, plotting several hundred points onto a map took about five seconds in our testing.
If you use the Envinsa server, you now have a lot of data already in your map, including names of streets, postal codes and other geographic data, both at highly detailed and overview levels. It also provides a lot of metadata, such as the speed limits and directions of roads. This comes into play when you start to manipulate the data for evacuation planning, for instance. Pick a point on the map and the software can calculate how far a person might drive in five minutes in all directions, taking into account things like one-way streets, parkland and more.
Using a series of check boxes, you can determine what type of data you want to use and what you don't need. MapInfo will also offer to check your data for mistakes in case ZIP codes or street names were mistyped when the data was entered.
The program is very flexible. In addition to internal map data and that of the Envinsa server, MapInfo also lets you import data from other sources, such as HTTP, Extensible Markup Language and Fire Transfer Protocol sites. It can even consume live RSS feeds. If you want to overlay live traffic data from Yahoo, for example, the program will help determine whether chosen routes are blocked because of traffic disruptions.
MapInfo also works with popular applications such as Google Earth, with the ability to enhance images for better street-level analysis. It's not perfect, but MapInfo can get an image to the point where you can identify individual cars on a street or in a parking lot.
A common problem with mapping programs is that if too many events happen in the same location, such as crime in an apartment complex, most programs will only assign one point to all that data. You might have a crime spike in that area, but you can't discern that at a glance because the geographic representation isn't granular enough. MapInfo fixes this by letting you assign multicolored pixels or even pie charts to each area. The pie chart might encompass various crime trends for that single area.
Overall, the MapInfo interface is very good. It's quite Excel-like and even has the ability to calculate values on the fly. For example, if you need to know the square mileage in a highlighted area, MapInfo gives you data in a spreadsheet-like column. If you change the highlighted area, the value in the spreadsheet changes.
MapInfo can take the complicated world of GIS and open it to non-experts. Someone who specializes in GIS will get a lot more out of the program, but even the basic tools offer a lot of functionality to almost any environment.