Map applications provide the primary user interface for GIS
Map applications provide the primary user interface for GIS

GIS users work with interactive maps. There is a series of GIS map applications that provide the primary interfaces through which users work with ArcGIS. Map documents (ArcMap MXDs) and ArcGIS Web Maps are used to encapsulate maps that are used and shared across these applications.

Many kinds of GIS map applications

GIS maps provide the primary user interface for many GIS applications. Users can point to map features to display information about them, discover new relationships, perform editing and analysis, and efficiently communicate results using geographic views.

A number of alternative GIS map applications can be deployed in various application frameworks to support many types of users and tasks. They include the following:

Professional GIS maps

ArcGIS Desktop users (users of ArcView, ArcEditor, ArcInfo, and often custom ArcGIS Engine applications) employ a rich set of mapping applications, such as ArcMap, to perform their daily work. ArcGIS Desktop provides professional GIS applications for map authoring and map use, working with 3D scenes and globes, data compilation, running GIS analysis, and publishing GIS information products for use by others in your organization.

The three primary map applications in ArcGIS Desktop

Typical tasks in professional GIS map applications include these:

  • Author maps.
  • Edit data.
  • Perform spatial analysis.
  • Visualize results.
  • Animate geographic information.
  • Chart data.
  • Publish and share as desktop maps, Web maps, and ArcGIS Explorer maps.
  • Print maps.

Web maps

Web maps are used by a wide-ranging audience from citizens to field-workers, operations staff, managers, and executives and are published in concert with ArcGIS Server. Web GIS applications have a user experience much like many of the consumer Web maps such as Google Maps and Microsoft Bing Maps.

You can create and share your own custom Web map applications powered by powerful, back-end map and geoservices hosted by ArcGIS Server. You can easily combine (that is, mash up) Web maps with one another.

Web applications

A number of application program interfaces (APIs) are available for building and deploying Web maps with ArcGIS: JavaScript, Adobe Flex, and Microsoft Silverlight. Web mapping applications are useful for combining information from a range of Web maps and GIS servers.

Example of a Web application built using the JavaScript API for ArcGIS

Parcels for Riverside County, California, mashed up with Microsoft Bing™ Maps

Riverside County, California, parcels mashed up with Google Maps™

Here is a list of some typical tasks that are used in custom applications:

  • Map use with focused tasks—identify, query, summarize, and so on
  • Simple editing (for example, enabling citizens to compile and share their their own information as a member of a community)
  • Attribute and forms-based updates
  • Access to status maps (situational awareness)
  • Fusion of information from multiple servers

ArcGIS Explorer

ArcGIS Explorer is a free application from ESRI that you can share with any of your users. Explorer is used to build interactive Web maps that provide 2D and 3D views of geographic information. These GIS maps can integrate many information sets. ArcGIS Explorer typically relies on ArcGIS Web and other Web services (KML, WMS, and so forth), but can also use local datasets.

An example of an ArcGIS Explorer map

Here are some ArcGIS Explorer characteristics:

  • It can access any 2D or 3D basemap published using ArcGIS Server along with the ability to overlay just about any GIS service (KML, OGC, Bing, and others).
  • It supports advanced GIS tasks and access to geoprocessing services.
  • The ArcGIS Explorer presentation mode is very effective at using maps and GIS to tell stories and communicate with and visualize your community.
  • It helps users answer many questions that go beyond simple Web mapping:
    • Where are my customers?
    • Where should I put new stores or facilities?
    • Who is impacted by this emergency? Where are the first responders? Where are the vulnerable populations, and how many are there? Where are the elderly who are affected? The children? Where should we place evacuation centers?
    • What is the best way to respond to a power outage? Can we pinpoint the outage location?
    • What are the most congested traffic areas of a city?
    • What is the projected tax base for land parcels under this proposed plan alternative?
    • What is the environmental impact of a new development?
    • What is the air quality impact on children near major roads?
    • What happens if the water level rises one meter?
  • It's free to download and use.

Mobile GIS applications

The wide adoption of mobile wireless devices (advances in cell phones) and the universal use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) are fueling the growth in mobile GIS. ArcGIS includes mobile capabilities that work on wireless devices (using the mobile Web) as well as devices with advanced GPS capabilities for field data collection and mapping applications. Mobile wireless appliances use standard Web map frameworks, while Tablet PCs and professional GPS devices use special maps that you can take to the field on your mobile appliance using ArcGIS Mobile technologies.

ArcGIS supports a range of mobile devices