Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 134 / OCTOBER 1991 / PAGE 139

MapViewer. (geographic information system) (evaluation)
by Adam Starkweather

Have you ever looked at a map and wanted to see the information displayed differently? Perhaps a job presentation or sales close could have benefited from a jazzier visual aid than an uninspired photocopy from an old sales manual?

MapViewer, from Golden Software, could be your answer. It allows you to use standard maps or create your own and customize them any way you want. This Windows 3.0 program helps you create great presentations and is a terrific aid to schoolwork.

Any discussion of technical software should start with a review of its most important and often most neglected component - the documentation. MapViewer comes with an intimidating 312 pages plus appendices to sift through. The manual contains an introduction, start-up procedures, a tutorial, an advanced features section, and a handy reference section.

Although the sheer volume of documentation may at first seem a bit overwhelming, it took me only about two hours to work through the tutorial and two hours to read the rest of the manual. Then I was ready to use MapViewer. I found the manual to be well written, concise, and generally readable; even the index appeared complete and dependable.

Most people will first experience MapViewer by running through the tutorial. When you first booth the program, a standard Windows screen with icons for map customization greets you. The tutorial then instructs you to impart a data file of the fifty American States and a data file detailing the populations of each state. Then, using a simple spreadsheet, the tutorial reshapes the information into a variety of maps that display population ranges. For instance, a hatch map color-codes the country according to population density. A symbol map place appropriately sized human figures in each state. The bigger the person, the bigger the population. Choosing a prism map gives you three-dimensional states with the height of the state corresponding to the size of the population. A dot-density map fills each state with dots in proportion to the population. For incorporating more than one available a pie map inserts a pie chart into each state and allows for population breakdowns into categories such as male and female.

Next, you may print your data. Finally, the tutorial runs through the help screens and index. A tutorial in any manual is an indispensable tool in learning how a program works. You learn best by doing, and Golden Software deserves applause for including such a complete and usable tutorial in the manual.

After running the tutorial, you're ready to explore MapViewer on your own. The features included allow you to make your map three-dimensional, display two data variables for each geographical area, put several maps on one page, cover up parts of the map, or use the clipboard. In order to test the usefulness of the program, I constructed a map representing the spread of my personal business. This was an adequate test of the agility of the program, since my client base spans a large geographical area but is concentrated in very small groupings. I expanded the four counties surrounding me into an enlarged area and showed the remainder of the United States in a secondary map. For good measure and aesthetics, I then made the map three-dimensional and added color. Altogether, it took about four hours - one hour to enter the information into the spreadsheet and three hours to use the manual to figure out what I wanted to do.

The quality of printing was fine on my HP laser printer at work, but the legibility on my inexpensive dot-matrix printer at home was quite poor; distinguishing the different shades in each map area proved difficult. A representation in the manual of how the different colors will show up in black-and-white printing would've been handy and certainly saved time. Another problem is the definition of the geographical representations. Blowing up the area in and around Kuwait (which we've all become familiar with) revealed a very simplistic rendering of the borders. Honestly, though, these quibbles with an otherwise unique and useful program don't begin to undermine its strength.

When I first received MapViewer, I struggled to justify its utility. Though undeniably well made, MapViewer made me wonder, "What can I use it for?" I found my answers. While other graphic business programs might sit on my shelf after reviews area written, MapViewer will stay on my hard disk. My son and I discovered (in my case rediscovered) the versatility and userfulness of maps. I know of no other tool as handy for supplementing a child's geographical education. In addition, its usefulness proposals recently became apparent - and since then, indispensable. I incorporated MapViewer into two presentations, and the results pleased me tremendously; my presentations, were simply more impressive. For a program that on first glance appeared all but useless, a trip through the workings of MapViewer soon convinced me that its appeal should, geographically speaking, reach far and wide.