Reflections on the Esri Business Partner Conference and the Developer Summit

2010 Esri Business Partner Conference

So what is the take away from this conference? First off it is getting smaller every year (NOTE: I was told by ESRI that it was up from last year. I still think the growth of the DevSummit makes it feel small) as I think people are picking the Developer Summit to put their time into. Maybe at this point it can start focusing on business development and leave the technical sessions for the DevSummit. Time will tell I suppose.

The plenary was essentially the same as the FedUC last month, but they did tighten the message a bit. You can view some of the BPC Plenary online. Hitting on VGA/Crowd Sourcing, GeoDesign and da Cloud; the plenary clearly was laying out in detail what to expect from ESRI this year. ESRI again highlighted their partnership with Amazon and how at least for now ELA customers will be able to roll out their web services on the AWS platform, but it was interesting to see them keep pulling back. Private clouds (are we really going to use this term?) are where ESRI still sees much potential for their customers behind their firewalls on their own infrastructure. How is this different from 2008? Not really sure, but at least we have a term for it.

Up on stage, ESRI mentioned that we’d be able to rent ArcGIS Server this year from them at an hourly rate. Sounds great and if ESRI can figure out the pricing, it might be very valuable. You still have a huge problem of getting your data up in the cloud first, so an hour might turn into days as you copy up your large rasters.

Chris Capelli had a weird analogy where he described the world as cloudy”, partly cloudy” and sunny”. I’m sure you can guess how that fits in to the ESRI strategy, but even Chris was trying to explain that cloudy” isn’t necessarily negative. Agreed, so lets just drop that analogy. Also ESRI seems to be overselling the cloud a bit which I think will translate into unrealistic expectations for ESRI Business Partners. No Windows AMI takes 4 minutes to start up so claiming you can have ArcGIS in the cloud in 4 minutes is just silly.

There was a huge session on which if I understand it correctly is this years rebranded ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Resource Centers and who knows what else. I’d just like to see them focus on one thing and roll with it and is as nice a url as anything. will have an app store where you’ll be apparently able to list or sell your ESRI apps for others to grab. It was implied that data, services, models and templates would also be able to be shared there. Again, lets see the implementation and then we can figure out if they’ve finally gotten this right. At the BPC, I heard again and again that the business partners were still confused about the story. They think it is pretty, seems to work well, but how does it change their business model around it?

We also saw an updated version of the new Flex Viewer and the API. So much nicer than the wacky Flex Viewer that everyone has been using. I might finally be able to stomach ESRI Flex API implementations. Adhering to user interface standards is always a nice thing.

This new concept of add-ins to ArcGIS Desktop 10 was really interesting. No longer will you need Windows Admin rights to install tools/extensions. This could be a huge game changer for many companies (including WeoGeo and our WeoGeo Tools for ArcGIS). I can’t wait to delve deeper into this and see what it will mean for users.

A great new website from ESRI will be released soon at where users will be able to I guess suggest and vote on new features and where they’d like ArcGIS to be headed. I wonder if ESRI is ready for this. ;)

Lastly ArcGIS 10 Pre-Release” should be headed out this week to Business Partners, EDN subscribers and of course the beta testers. A big change is that DVDs are now optional at ArcGIS 10 so everything will be via download. No worries about where the heck did you leave the DVD for the ArcGIS install, it is always available. ArcGIS 10 is expected to be a June 2010 release and that date didn’t seem to worry anyone at ESRI so book it that you’ll have ArcGIS 10 on your desktop before the UC.

2010 Esri Developer Summit

So following the BPC, came the one and only Developer Summit. You can view the Plenary Videos online now if you missed them. I was blown away how much larger this event has gotten over the BPC and just about every other geospatial conference out there. There was standing room only for the plenary session and I was lucky enough to find a couch in the GeoLounge” to watch the session on the closed circuit TV.

Jim McKinney started off with saying that the ArcGIS 10 Pre-Release would be available for download April 1st. Check you calendar today and see if you can download it. I’m guessing very soon if not already. Scott Morehouse talked for a bit about the shift at ESRI from the traditional client server to a more web services model and pointed to as an example of this.

Jeremy Bartley lead things off with a dive into the new and showed how you could make a mashup” by combining layers in ArcGIS Online in a Geocommons Maker! sort of way. The interface looks nice and the UI should be able to be used my much more people. It didn’t look like GIS devs designed it, which for ESRI is saying a ton.

Sud Menon went into some of the neat extensibility features that will be available in ArcGIS 10 for REST and SOAP APIs. The JavaScript API 2.0 was demonstrated with the new editing capabilities. I’m not sold on editing on web clients, but clearly everyone else is so now is you chance to let the community edit your maps. As I said above, the new Flex Viewer is really a nice piece of work and I’m guessing we’ll see an explosion of Flex maps using ESRI webs services in the next year.

The iPhone API was demonstrated and looked nice. There will be a stand-alone app that you can just use to connect to existing web services or you can create your own in Objective-C using the API. I heard from many who attended the technical session that the API looks painful (though much of that might be that no one want’s to learn Objective-C) so I’m assuming web clients built on JavaScript will probably be the default method. While the focus was on iPhone, ArcPad, Android and Windows 7 APIs were mentioned. This all falls under the ArcGIS Mobile umbrella which of course falls under the ArcGIS Server team. Tight integration between ArcGIS Server 10 and these APIs should be expected.

John Calkins did his desktop demo (which was much more interesting than the FedUC for some reason) and highlighted a couple things that I’m sure will get people on desktop excited. First off the UI doesn’t lock up when running geoprocessing tasks. Now don’t get too excited because this isn’t mult-threading, just allowing your processing to run in the background. Not what we all want, but at least a start. ArcCatalog and Python are both now embedded in ArcMap so you don’t have to have additional windows (unless of course you want to) cluttering your desktop. Of course there was deep integration and a search window for text searching (looks limited, but integrated search should be interesting to many).

The add-in capability as I described above sounds really great for Desktop developers. Just drop your add-in into a folder and it is available to ArcGIS 10. What a change eh? ArcPy has intellisense (can we code any other way anymore?) but be very afraid of ArcObjects Python devs. It’s a beast! And as we learned last year, you can now automate map production like you could with ArcPlot all those wonderful years ago.

Lastly ESRI mentioned that a 64-bit ArcGIS Server is in the works. No one would give a date, but I have to suspect that this is farther along than I’d expect.

The user presentations were great and a highlight of the conference for me and I think most who attended really enjoyed them. Some had standing room only which will probably be noticed by ESRI. One session I went to with great hope was Accessing Your Geodatabase Outside of ArcObjects”. It was interesting to hear ESRI describe how you can get into the guts of the Geodatabase via SQL which up until now was something that they’d say you’d never want to do. The File Geodatabase API stuff was interesting, but limiting. First off the API will be C++ (actually this is a good thing), will be supported on only Windows, Solaris, RedHat and SUSE and will have access to only simple features (not annotation, topology, networks, etc). A targeted API was expected, but disappointing. The demo on the FGDB API was very simple so I assume they have much work ahead of them.

ESRI has clearly put a ton of effort into their product in a time where their competitors are shrinking and I think this will be noticed by the marketplace. The speed at which ESRI can devote large resources to solve problems” really shows the scale of the company. At the end of the DevSummit, attendees were excited to get back home and download the ArcGIS 10 Pre-Release (today?) and get coding against some of the really cool features.


April 1, 2010