Attendance at ESRI’s annual Petroleum User Group meeting in Houston this month reflected the dominant position of ArcView in E&P GIS. Of particular interest and concern to the PUG membership were ESRI’s plans for ArcInfo 8 migration, and the future of the UNIX platform.

Ten years ago at the first ESRI Petroleum User Group (PUG) 14 stalwart pioneers showed up to compare notes on using GIS for oil and gas data representation. Today, ESRI’s ArcView has evolved into a ‘de-facto’ standard for the integration of all data types with a geographical component - which means nearly every E&P data type there is - a fact born out by the 450 turn out for this year’s PUG.
The year 2000 marks something of a turning point for the PUG with two major changes in strategy occurring in the ESRI camp. Firstly there is an inexorable move away from the E&P IT platform of choice - UNIX - to the world of Microsoft NT. Concomitant with this is the planned dropping of the E&P application of choice - ArcView which is to be subsumed into the ArcInfo 8 product.
new data model
This move is highly significant for E&P users of ESRI’s wares not least for the fact that, as revealed in PDM (Vol 5 N°1), the new ArcInfo 8 environment will include a fully fledged geospatial database. Rumor has it that ESRI are working on a brand new E&P specific data model (yet another!) that could be bundled with ArcInfo and in the medium term might shift the focus of E&P IT from the geotechnical application to the GIS. But enough speculation - what of the show?
The List
The PUG chairman, Chevron’s Bill Wally introduced newcomers to the key component of the PUG – the ‘List’ - a running tally of needs, complaints and requirements that is presented to ESRI each year at the conference. The PUG activities include a public "grilling" of ESRI developers about the status of items on the list. The PUG List has had a major impact on ESRI product offerings in the past, ESRI has listened and continues to look to PUG members for guidance.
ArcView’s Future
Of greatest concern to the PUG community is the fate of ArcView. ESRI forecasts a future lifespan of around 3 years with maintenance and enhancements during the transition period.
Avenue - dead end?
The ArcView programming language Avenue is likely to suffer a similar fate. A degree of backward compatibility is promised but in the medium term users will have to retool applications to Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).
Internet Mapping Server
Arc Internet Mapping Server combines internet mapping with GIS technology and allows developers to serve up centralized GIS serving users equipped with a web browser client. Three viewers are offered. One is based on Microsoft’s Active Server Pages and Cold Fusion. A second on DHTML and a third on Java. The first is good for low bandwidth situations, with a very thin client. The second is a small downloadable client. And the third is the Rolls Royce of the viewers which would appeal to intranet setups with more bandwidth available, supporting display, query, map navigation. You can check out this technology on the, website and IMS is the basis of the National Geographic Map Machine which is currently producing a million maps per day.
The ESRI UNIX community (and that probably means most of the PUG) is concerned about the future of Unix. Clint Brown, Director of Software Development, denied that UNIX development was dead. For example ArcSDE has been ported to Linux. But the corporate level technology of choice for the future is Microsoft’s COM. UNIX has ‘lacked the kind of application object technology ESRI required.’ In view of the UNIX client base ESRI is working on with MainSoft’s COM port to Solaris with some participation from SUN.
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PDM comment – ESRI’s invocation of COM on UNIX reminds us of Landmark’s attempt to apply Microsoft spin doctoring to legacy UNIX based technology. Landmark are seemingly disenchanted with this solution. It appears unlikely to us that solutions based on software emulators have much long-term future. ESRI’s market is horizontal – they are in the enviable position of supplying generic software to the world-wide GIS marketplace. Alignment with the traditions of E&P legacy applications is quite secondary. ESRI’s future is writ large and it says “COM and VBA.”

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