Streets on a Disk. (mapping software) (Evaluation)
by Tony Roberts
Can't get there from here? Maybe you need Streets on a Disk, an update of a sophisticated mapping program that's been around and evolving for several years.
The system consists of a base package, which contains the mapping software itself, and sets of accessory files--the maps. In my case, I received a map of Guilford County, North Carolina.
You can use Streets to locate streets or addresses, plan travel routes, and estimate travel costs. Want to know where Galway Drive is? Type in the name, and the street is highlighted. Want to get from here to there? The program includes a route calculation feature that scans all available pathways and picks the one its data says is most efficient.
The street maps, which include everything from interstate highways to footpaths, are used in conjunction with place maps, which you build to suit your needs. Using the map editor, you can add points of interest such as hotels, restaurants, or clients to your map. The place maps work as overlays to the street maps, so you can create several separate place maps to work with a single underlying street system.
Adding places is a simple process of pointing to the place's location on the map and then identifying it. Alternatively, if you have hundreds of locations to plot, Streets includes a feature called Autoplace, which reads a text file containing place information and locates those places on the map.
One of the program's more interesting features, Autoroute, finds the best route between any two points you specify. Depending on the distance, the number of streets involved, and the speed of your computer, this process can take several minutes--or hours--to complete.
I tested Autoroute with several of my regular destinations here in Greensboro, North Carolina, and found that, while it usually got me from here to there, it didn't always choose the routes I've found to be the most efficient. Streets on a Disk can figure mileage and calculate travel time (each street has a speed value associated with it), but the program doesn't have access to the intangibles, such as the stoplight that always seems to be red or the intersection where traffic's always backed up.
After calculating a route, the program can print out bot a map and a set of detailed travel instructions.
The program's map files are constructed from government data and are quite accurate with a few exceptions: One-way streets are not identified, roads that have been recently built or recently relocated are not shown, and the program may incorrectly interpret some highway overpasses as intersections.
According to Klynas Engineering, the program's creator, these problems are to be expected, but all of them can be corrected with the help of the street editor. In fact, the maps are working documents that users are expected to edit.
Streets on a Disk is not the easiest-to-use program in the world. Although it permits the use of the keyboard and/or mouse, the interface is nonstandard and difficult to use. For example, to make a menu bar selection, you click the right mouse button until the option you want is highlighted and then click the left button to select it. The documentation, while providing generally adequate information about using the program's features, is antiquated in appearance.
Despite the unusual interface, Streets on a Disk is an extremely powerful mapping tool that includes many more features and utilities than have been mentioned here. If you have heavy-duty mapping requirements, you should give this program a good look, keeping in mind that you'll need a fast system and a large amount of hard disk space to run it.