GIS Thoughts

ArcGIS Explorer – an Open Google Earth ?

Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science

I’m in Warsaw this week to present at the 20th ESRI European User Conference. An interesting contrast to the “big show” in San Diego, today the first day had a similar agenda with presentations from Jack Dangermond and David Maquire, but rather than an audience of thousands, the audience here in the wonderful Palace of Culture and Science was measured in hundreds.

Little difference in terms of message from July, although clearly progress has been made, and there are now a few more details around the upcoming products.

Of particular note for me was the “first public demonstration” of ArcGIS Explorer, the real thing this time rather than the “smoke and mirrors” prototype shown at the International User Conference. ArcGIS Explorer is a Google Earth Killer, clearly ESRI were more than a little put out by the hype surronding Google Earth and have come out fighting.

ArcGIS Explorer

ArcGIS Explorer will be a free 15Mb download from the ESRI website and will connect to a dedicated ArcWeb server farm at ESRI providing an experience similar to Google Earth, although I was not clear where the imagery is sourced from. What got me excited however, is the ability of ArcGIS Explorer to use other data services including OGC WMS and WFS servers and any ArcIMS server you may already use. ArcGIS can also display local data, File GDB’s,shape files, most image formats and even KML files from your PC’s hard drive.

The interface is quite radical for ESRI and has a task driven interface similar to google earth, with simple search tools as the primary user interface. ESRI have developed a interactive navigation tool which floats as a separate window, and according to my ESRI friend has been developed based on the rich experience of games designers who really know how 3D navigation works.

The open nature of ArcExplorer in data terms is complemented by an API which will allow developers to customise and extend ArcGIS Explorers capabilities. This could be a really hot product for ESRI, and its timing might well allow it to benefit from the building anti Google sentiment – it also might just turn out to be the ArcView 3.x replacement everybody is still looking for.

Written and submitted from the Westin Hotel, Warsaw, using the hotels broadband network.

13 replies on “ArcGIS Explorer – an Open Google Earth ?”

ESRI’s “Google Killing” ArcExplorer 2.0

ESRI has released ArcExplorer 2.0. It’s claimed by some to be a “Google Earth” killer. It’s not surprising that ESRI has a response to GE, and that it didn’t take them long to do so! An interesting note though… ArcExplorer 2.0 reads, among lots …

Interesting comment from Warsaw!
I would have preferred if Ed ellaborated on the “building anti-google sentiment” a bit, as I am not aware of such… Except the anti-sentiment generated by “enemies of the open skies”, but I might not know it all…
Also, I read that Google is also having a WMS-enabled new client, and WFS could come soon. I am not saying they were not late in going “open”, we have repeatedly asked for that too, but maybe this will help in having Google also more “open standards oriented” in the future…
But let’s see what this new ESRI product will offer… I wonder why all well-paying ESRI customers are not already be beta-testing it…


Happy to comment.. the auto-google thing I guess is a reflection of the view of some people that Google is ‘trying to take over the world” and when you get down to if google’s motive is to increasing it’s advertising revenue. I personally don’t have any problem with this whatsoever – but some people I think saw google mistakenly as a source of ‘free data”.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.. Google has had such a positive impact on the GI industry it will be interesting to see how the “old guard” respond.


Perhaps ESRI might avoid a losing game of ‘catch up’ on COLLADA, .X file, etc support, and actually service their customer base better(!), by opening a new front on the overall ‘Earth’ wars, and embrace X3D. I write this from the X3D user workshop at Navy Postgrad school. Member after member talked about how wonderful the availability of Google Earth was, but lamented its inadequacies for their wide range of applications (UTM coordinate systems, undersea, mining/oil & gas, indoor, user-supplied terrain, etc etc etc), and the fear of being “locked in.”

Navy and others are tiling up all the same free public data, and a lot more, into streamable 3D tiled pyramids for an X3D ‘Earth’ just as performant as Google and Microsoft ecosystems. Why not take leadership in 3D product standardization (Raj Singh of OGC was here too for coordination), and provide balance to Google and Microsoft? Isn’t that the whole point of ArcGIS Explorer?

And the question for the publisher of this blog is: how does Ordnance Survey plan to “publish” its 3D data?



I don’t think X3D is the answer. Why? In my view its a ‘dumb’ graphics based encoding which lacks any semantic functionality i.e. this city is made of these buildings, these buildings have these rooms, the room has these walls, this wall is made of brick etc,etc. Given this its very difficult to use X3D for anything other than visualisation.

The answer I believe is CityGML ( CityGML is a GML3 application schema capable of representing a city model both graphically (see previous URL for eye candy) and semantically. Being GML it certainly ticks the box for standards (ISO and OGC) and importantly can be served/streamed over the web using the already existing Web Feature Service (WFS) standard. If you’re an OGC member take a look at the work going on in the OWS4-CGB (CAD, GIS, BIM) thread. We’re serving LoD4 (LevelofDetail – aka architectural detail) CityGML buildings over web directly into WFS clients which not only visualise but also run queries and perform analysis on the 3D data.

I rest my case for virtual worlds to be built not using X3D but using City GML. That way we can do more than just look, we can query and put all this 3D to work!


Leave a Reply to Ed Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.