MapInfo Releases Java Tool for Spatial Analysis

There is a distinct market group that can gain competitive advantage by displaying data spatially, by mapping the information in their databases. So says Pete Petruccione, director of product marketing for MapInfo Corp. (Troy, N.Y., To this end, MapInfo last year released MapXtreme for Windows NT, a tool to make mapping spatial data easier. But to integrate with multiple platforms, the company has now released MapXtreme Java Edition, a 100 percent pure Java tool for deploying spatial analysis via the Web.

Petruccione says MapInfo customers range from telecommunications companies, such as Skytel Communications Inc. (Jackson, Miss.,, to retailers, such as Kmart Corp. (Troy, Mich., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (Bentonville, Ark.,

Using the NT-version of MapXtreme, Skytel developed a data map that showed in-house representatives where the company had coverage across the country. Using the Java-enabled version of MapXtreme, Skytel now can put that map onto the Web for use by the general public.

MapInfo says retailers can use the NT-version to give their associates a better idea of where they have stores and what the population is like in those areas. The Java Edition allows those retailers to post maps on the Web for customers to find a store in their area. For example, insurance companies could use the application to perform threat-assessment procedures, or banks could use MapXtreme to display the location of ATM machines.

MapInfo demonstrated one example used by a billboard company for ENT. Using box fields next to the map, a user could specify a wide range of factors and get back a map that displays those factors in a spatial environment. In this example, specifications for race, gender and restaurant location were input. The map came back with fields darkened in respect to the density of ethnic and gender population and displayed icons to represent each restaurant in the area. Using data like this, advertisers can more closely monitor where they buy billboard space.

Relating a map to a company's existing database isn't easy, but Bruce Jenkins, vice president of the analyst firm Daratech Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.), says many corporate databases already have the first step completed. "The secret is that most corporate databases keep data saved with a spatial component," Jenkins says. "The challenge is identifying that field and then doing geo coding." Geo coding, says Jenkins, is the process of obtaining database records, identifying one or more fields that have a spatial component – such as zip codes or area codes -- and translating that into corresponding information, such as x and y coordinates, so the mapping applications can perform the spatial analysis.

MapInfo's Petruccione says there were two things wrong with the NT product. One, it only worked on NT; two, NT's not multithreaded. MapInfo's applications needed to support up to thousands of users, and it needed to scale. Petruccione says although MapInfo is a Microsoft shop, "We're purely business here and not religious about platforms." Petruccione also says that database vendors are beginning to make it easier for users to access information spatially. Oracle Corp., for one, will have a feature called Oracle Spatial with its 8i release, supporting spatial data right inside the kernals.

"Nothing is lost; Java is gained," Jenkins says of the new edition of MapXtreme. "It's not to say there was anything wrong with the NT environment. NT is the most open architecture ever, but the addition of Java greatly extends that." Jenkins explains that while MapXtreme is not the ultimate solution in e-commerce or user interface tools, it could be the mitigating factor why a customer chooses one product over another.