Microsoft has decided to get into the digital mapping business, but while MapPoint 2000 may suffice for those who need to create small routing or locator-type maps, this is definitely not a GIS software package

MapPoint will come as part of the Microsoft Office 2000 package or as a stand alone product for US$109. The data that is shipped with the software is for the U.S. only, and if there are plans to release Canadian data no one at Microsoft could tell me of the plans or give me a potential release date.

The software installs easily from a CD. I ran the software on a Pentium II 350 with 64MB RAM and a 12MB video card with Windows 98, and had no problems. The minimum recommended system is Pentium 90 (though this would be extremely slow), Windows 95/98 with 20MB RAM or NT 4 Service Pack 3 and 36MB RAM. You will also need at least 200MB of disk space. The software also allows you to save maps as HTML files for display on the Web or in presentations. If you would like to do that I would recommend at least a 28.8Kbps modem (14.4Kbps is recommended).

My first impression of MapPoint 2000 is that this is basically an electronic version of any type of wall map or map book that one can purchase. This turned out to be both true and false. Map data seems to be quite good and working with the Data Mapping and Data Import Wizards was easy and very quick.

The map data that comes with MapPoint 2000 ranges from boundaries for countries of the world (the only non-U.S. data), down to census tract areas (for America only). The demographic data that is included is detailed enough and has the proper variables to keep most sales and marketing departments happy. The street data that is included is extensive and fairly complete and the same can be said about the zip code data. However, when testing with a friend’s address in Phoenix in a relatively new development (six to eight months old), neither the street nor the zip code were represented.

Microsoft has also indicated that data updates will be performed on an approximate yearly basis. If you are involved in an industry that targets new developments or to-be developed areas, this may not be the best software for you as the data is also in a proprietary format. This means that you cannot update the data sets yourself by drawing in a street and then typing in the attributes. It will be interesting to see what fees Microsoft will set for consumers to get updated information.

The Data Mapping and Data Import Wizards are extremely easy to use and are probably the best things about MapPoint. It was very easy to bring in an Excel spreadsheet or Access database listing city and state names and have the information displayed thematically. When listings of city and state names did not match or if there was only a city name specified, the software would prompt you to choose the correct city from a drop down list based on most likely matches. Anyone that has basic office skills could import a data set with very few problems. Also, if you were looking for a handful of cities and just wanted to use the find function this one is very fast and takes you to a view of the city’s location.

The toolbars and menu items are typical of the Microsoft Office series of software packages. The drawing toolbar is almost identical to the one in Word 97. It is in this sort of functionality that the software basically becomes a map book. MapPoint says you can design routing with the software. When GIS technicians think of routing they are thinking in terms of an automatic, electronic type of routing.

In MapPoint this is definitely not the case. One has to (and this is what the software suggests in its quick tour) select either the highlighting option or the line option from the drawing toolbar and trace your route from Point A to Point B. Not the most efficient thing to do. These points are referred to as pushpins in the software. A pushpin is also the main symbol that is used for specifying a point and has to be selected from the toolbar — though there are some very neat and very cute pushpin symbol options. The thing I hated most about this software package was that when specifying multiple points, each time I had to go back to the toolbar and select the pushpin tool, rather than selecting it once and being able to choose all my points.

This software will be useful if you have a U.S. map book that has become too cluttered with notes and penciled-in routes. To keep track of a few American client locations and some small routes in an efficient and neat manner without going to the expense of a MapInfo or ArcView this software will be useful. Otherwise save yourself the $100 and buy a decent map book or atlas.

Bio still to come…