Microsoft's MapPoint 2001 can get a little lost

Microsoft's MapPoint 2001 can get a little lost

BOX SCORE

MapPoint 2001

DATA MAPPING AND ROUTING TOOL


Microsoft Corp.; Redmond, Wash.;

tel. 425-882-8080

www.microsoft.com

Price: $240



+ Attractive, Office 2000-like interface

- Addresses often inaccurate

- Data mapping Wizard needs tuning



Real-life requirements:

Win98, WinMe, NT 4.0 or Win 2000; 128M of RAM; Pentium II processor; 200M of free storage; CD-ROM drive; Internet connection

MapPoint failed to map properly for DeKalb County, Ga., because of an extra space that didn't belong in the name.

Slick looks don't compensate for basic problems

By Michael Cheek

GCN Staff

The saying 'Don't sweat the small stuff' often precedes 'It's all small stuff.' That must be the motto of the Microsoft Corp. developers who coded MapPoint 2001.

MapPoint is a new business mapping application that complements the Microsoft Office 2000 suite. It has analysis tools and integrates well with Access, Excel, Outlook and SQL Server.

But MapPoint falls flat in the basics. One of the first things I do with any mapping program is look up where I live. According to MapPoint, I live about four houses down the street. And the house where I grew up has moved about two miles.

MapPoint cannot pinpoint which Silver Spring, Md., corner GCN's office building is on. Even 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington isn't at the same place as the White House, although it's pretty close.

OK, maybe the last test wasn't fair. That stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue has been closed a while for security.

For too many other addresses, however'residential or business'the MapPoint's pushpin was off the point. I looked at numerous locations with which I'm familiar in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. I probably could find my way to them using MapPoint, although the application was just far enough off to be confusing.

Street Atlas USA from DeLorme Publishing Company Inc. of Yarmouth, Maine, was more accurate than MapPoint, but its interface and graphics weren't as slick. Microsoft's interface looks more professional with its muted, complementary colors and terrain maps. DeLorme's colors are garish by comparison.

Office users will generally understand MapPoint's menus and commands, knowing almost instinctively how to navigate. Microsoft should have put the Data Mapping Wizard under the Tools menu rather than the Format menu, but that's relatively minor.

The Data Mapping Wizard worked fine. I downloaded some state-by-state voter turnout data from the Federal Election Commission Web site and easily imported it into an Excel spreadsheet.

MapPoint walked me through how to map the data, but it was a little quirky. At first I chose the column containing the data to be mapped by selecting Information as the header. Bad move. It crashed MapPoint.

The data column does not need a designation'MapPoint will map it anyhow. Microsoft should provide a designation such as 'Data to be mapped' rather than leave it blank.

I also downloaded some population data by county for Georgia from the Census Bureau's Web site. Importing this data turned out to be much trickier.

Bad names

The Census list had a format such as 'Bulloch County, GA' followed by a number. But MapPoint wasn't sure which state the county belonged in because I had not created a field for the state. Of Georgia's 159 counties, 98 have names duplicated in another state.

Unfortunately, the Wizard lacked the ability to designate data for a specific state.

Moreover, MapPoint said it couldn't find DeKalb County, a major area that includes some of the city of Atlanta. The reason was that MapPoint referred to the county as De Kalb with a space, although the official name, spelled out at www.co.dekalb.ga.us, has no space.

The MapPoint Wizard also failed to supply an option to broaden the search for the appropriate county.

Like Street Atlas USA, MapPoint 2001 can plot a route. I liked its interface for entering several destinations at once to find a way from here to there. Via its Web link, MapPoint flagged areas with construction.

It tended to favor interstates over other highways, not always choosing the most expedient routes. But if you plan on making several stops, MapPoint will organize the stops in an order that saves gas'a valuable feature considering today's pump prices.

MapPoint can download maps to PocketPC handhelds and work with Global Positioning System sensors. You can draw on maps, highlight routes, print and do pretty much everything else through the interface.

DeLorme's Street Atlas USA lacks such sophisticated features but tends to be more on the mark. MapPoint should figure out where it's going and put those little pushpins in the right places.

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