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Integrating Mapping into Applications February 7, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software development, Software tools.
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I recently completed a review of MapXtreme 7.0, from Pitney Bowes Business Insight (the review will appear in some future issue of Directions magazine).  For those of you with some history, Pitney Bowes acquired MapInfo Corporation a number of years ago, and spawned off several derivative products, including MapXtreme for both .NET and Java.

Unlike MapInfo, MapXtreme is fundamentally an SDK, or software development kit, and requires programming skills to use.  In the case of the .NET version, it extends the .NET Framework (built with version 2.0) with a class hierarchy focused on creating and manipulating maps and supporting components.

MapXtreme integrates into Visual Studio automatically, and offers both client and ASP.NET-based projects as a starting point, using either C# or Visual Basic.  The vendor claims that the MapXtreme code (objects and methods) can be ported between desktop and Web with few if any changes.  I didn’t try that, instead focusing on building Web applications.

Understanding how to build a .NET application is a prerequisite to using MapXtreme, but if you’re already a developer, you’re ready to dive right in.  You select the project type and you’re set up with an empty project.  All applications that get developed using the MapXtreme object model are built atop of the MapInfo.Windows or MapInfo.Web namespace. These namespaces contain controls, tools and other functionalities specific to the rich client and Web platforms, respectively. The map is contained in a MapControl that also provides basic tools for viewing the map, such as panning, zooming, and centering.

The feature set available through the MapXtreme class library is extensive.  It enables developers to incorporate and display many types of data onto maps, and to easily add a variety of controls, themes, graphs, and other features that enable users to get the geographic information they need.

This version, optimized for Visual Studio 2008, incorporates an array of new features, such as grid analysis, linear referencing and dynamic segmentation, improved performance of Shapefiles, and an extendable workspace manager for application development.  It supports both SQL Server 2008 Spatial and Oracle 11G, as well as SpatialWare for Microsoft SQL Server and IBM Informix.  Its data provider makes it possible to take data from a wide variety of data sources, integrate it into a single data object, and use the object as a single data source for an application.

You can also use ASP.NET Ajax in a MapXtreme application. This involves the use of JavaScript to update specific data fields without refreshing the entire page. It improves application performance by reducing network traffic and eliminating constant page refreshes.  In addition, MapXtreme Web controls themselves are JavaScript-enabled and do not trigger a full page postback with each use.

MapXtreme v7.0 works with Visual Studio 2005 or 2008 Professional and Standard editions, using the .NET Framework 2.0 or above. It runs on Windows XP SP2 or above, including Windows Server 2008. I ran it on 64-bit Windows 7 Professional edition with no issues. For ASP.NET applications, it supports Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8, as well as Firefox 2.0, 3.0 and 3.5.

Any developer who is comfortable using Visual Studio should have no problem picking up MapXtreme. While there is a learning curve involved with the class library, the product mitigates that by providing a printable reference chart with the class hierarchy, as well as extensive examples.

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