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Mapping Toolbox - Viewers and Utilities

Map Viewers

TatukGIS Viewer is a free, powerful utility for quickly browsing catalogs of GIS data and setting up customized views. It is one of few viewers that can directly open US Census TIGER line data without conversion to another format first.
The Viewer opens ArcView and MapInfo project files and a variety of raster (TIFF/GeoTIFF, ECW, MrSID, SPOT, JPEG, PNG, BMP, TatukGIS PixelStore, Grid) and vector (SHP, E00, TAB, MID/MIF, DXF, DGN, TIGER) data. The Viewer also links to vector layers stored according to Open GIS standards in SQL databases. The Viewer saves map projects, provides a print preview and prints with any Windows printer.
Click for larger image The TatukGIS Viewer offers data analysis features to generate thematic maps based on values in GIS data attribute tables. The example on the left (click for a larger view) is a thematic map of managed forest land in Wisconsin. The display colors are based on categories of public and private ownership. The Viewer can even generate pie and bar chart map symbols from attribute data. See the Viewer PDF for ideas.

If you are a resource manager or educator, the TatukGIS Viewer could help you make the most of map data by sharing it with clients, students or others.

The Viewer includes a Wizard that automatically generates the ASP.NET code used by the TatukGIS Internet Map Server (see "On-line Maps" for examples). A free trial version of TatukGIS IS Lite map server is available for web developers. Complete GIS applications that expand upon the Viewer can be built royalty-free with the exceptional GIS DK (Developer Kernel) available from Tatuk.

Click here for Digital Grove's Quick-Start Guide for Viewer controls.

dlgv32 Pro, distributed by the USGS, is a limited-feature version of Global Mapper. The viewer opens most image and vector map files. It seamlessly integrates data layers even if projections or scales vary. Open your first layer in
the desired projection, and additional layers from other projections will be converted to align with the first "on the fly". Users can select display, turn 3D hill shading on or off, modify the color scheme, adjust line width and color, etc. Global Mapper can measure areas and distances, and it generates a constant readout of the latitude/longitude coordinates of the cursor.
ArcExplorer® is a GIS data viewer developed by Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. The free software offers an easy way to view GIS data and perform basic GIS functions. Its interface is similar to ArcView® software, a professional GIS program. As explained on the ESRI site, "ArcExplorer is used for a variety of display, query, and data retrieval applications and supports a wide variety of standard data sources. It can be used on its own with local data sets or as a client to Internet data and map servers."
ArcExplorer comes in version 2, a standard Windows program, or version 4 using a Java environment. If you have access to aerial photos made with the MrSID compression format, get version 2 since it can open MrSID images. An ArcExplorer web version is also available, nice if you have broadband Internet access.

ESRI offers free data on-line. The company also publishes books about GIS that include tutorials and CDs with data, making ArcExplorer an outstanding GIS educational tool.

Any web browser can be an effective GIS viewer. There are many map servers on the Internet that offer fascinating geographic information, although a broadband Internet connection is generally required. Here are a few examples to experiment with:

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers the ATRI Internet Map Service. It provides basemaps useful for planning efforts to protect aquatic and terrestrial resources.

Utilities for Image and Vector Data

 
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ERDAS ViewFinder 2.1 - The ERDAS ViewFinder is a free GIS image viewer that can also enhance and reproject raster data, a feature not offered by other free utilities. The program displays ERDAS IMAGINE .IMG, TIFF (including TIFF World, GeoTIFF, compressed and tiled variants) and Lizardtech MrSID image files, including 16-bit and floating point data types. Image manipulation tools can overlay, smooth, sharpen, enhance, and reproject multiple images on-the-fly.

Viewfinder's image reprojection engine supports thirty-one categories and all their associated zones. As shown in the following menu, you can also change the output resolution and pixel units and choose between three resample methods. The reprojected images can be saved in either ERDAS IMG or GeoTiff formats.

In order for the reprojection feature to function, the original image must be fully georeferenced, including the the standard pixel information found in a world coordinate file plus the projection, spheroid and datum used. Only a few format such as ECW and GeoTiff files contain full geo-referencing tags.

If the data you want to reproject has all the tags, the process is a snap. If not, Digital Grove offers a method to add all the necessary tags to an image file needed to accomplish an image reprojection. The procedure is somewhat complex, not recommended unless you are comfortable with using Windows and are familiar with GIS terms. It involves using a number of additional utilities described here.

ER Mapper ECW utilities - There are four recommended ECW programs to download: the ER Viewer, ECW Compressor, ECW Header Editor and the ECW plug-in for ERDAS ViewFinder, all available for free from the ER Mapper Internet site.
ECW stands for "Enhanced Compressed Wavelet". It's a popular file compression format used for GIS imagery. (MrSID from Lizardtech is another.) ECW can reduce the size of a file twenty or more times without perceptible loss in image quality.
GeoTiff Examiner is a handy utility that can embed the contents of a geo-referenced image's "world coordinate file" into the header of a TIFF image file. See the description of Zoner Draw 3 for an example of how this utility could be used.
TatukGIS® offers a free Datums & Projections Coordinate Calculator™. It converts geographic coordinates of a point from one system to another, supporting 24 of the most common projections and 225 datums. See Joe and Jack's Gpsinformation.net for instructions.
Tatuk's Aerial Imagery Corrector®, which features geo-referencing and removal of distortion from aerial photographs, is available as a free 30-day trial. The program's help file is an excellent tutorial on photo rectification.
If you are a resource manager producing maps, the most common approach is to create separate shapefiles for each property or parcel you work with. A forester, for example might use fGIS to create forest maps for different landowners. At some point, however, it might be desirable to have all similar shapefiles gathered together in one layer for GIS analysis.

MapShots, a data management company for precision agriculture, distributes a freeware utility called "JDO Boundary Tool" that merges shapefiles. The attributes of individual map objects are preserved by the utility, which will only merge shapes that have identical attribute definitions. The JDO Tool also modifies data from a John Deere office application, a function you probably won't need, but the shapefile merge routine is quite useful.

MapShots offers another free program called TerraFetch that retrieves digital aerial photos and USGS topographic maps from TerraServerUSA® and saves the images and their associated world coordinate files on your hard drive. Just enter the latitude and longitude (left) of the area you want coverage for, and TerraFetch brings them to you.

TerraFetch saves each image tile separately, so it's a good idea to organize the tiles in folders with plain language names so you can relocate them later. (An alternate TerraServer downloader is USAPhotoMaps. Details are available here.)

The Colorado COGO program creates DXF files of precise COordinate GeOmetry objects (such as property deeds or roads). The program includes extensive documentation. (Other GIS programs such as fGIS can often utilize DXF files.)
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Easy Trace is an excellent utility developed in Russia to convert scanned maps (such as hand-drawn forestry maps) into a shapefile vector format. The Easy Trace 7 Pro demo is fully functional with restrictions on the size of projects. The restrictions are not an issue for small property maps. The Easy Trace company also offers a freeware DOS version of the program with no restrictions, complete documentation and an excellent tutorial.
DXF2XYZ from Guthrie CAD/GIS of Australia extracts the xyz coordinates from DXF files (a CAD vector format), handy for building data tables for surface plotting programs like SurGe. See the SurGe tutorial for an example.

In conjunction with DXF2XYZ, the Massachusetts DXF Author lets create a DXF file from shapefiles. That means you can use a program like fGIS to place place your data points as shapefiles, which can be converted to DXF, which in turn can be converted to XYZ text files for data girding programs.

Image Analyzer from MeeSoft of Denmark is not a typical photo program. It offers unique "deconvolution" filters that correct blurred images (see aerial example below). In addition to traditional picture enhancement tools, Image Analyzer features advanced operations for examining and adjusting imagery.
MeeSoft also produces a simple "Diagram Designer" that easily annotates maps and photos. Both programs are distributed free.
Xatellite from Shale Software in the Netherlands displays shapefiles on a 3D globe. The shapefiles must be in the Geographic lat/lon coordinate system, easy to find through a Google search.

TGlobe offers a freeware City Distance Calculator that displays routes on a positional 3D globe or Mercator map. Cities are selected either by clicking them on the globe or from a list. You can add cities if those of interest aren't already in the extensive database.

You might also want to see the Motherplanet Earth Explorer, a rotating 3D Earth educational tool based on 1 km resolution satellite imagery and digital elevation models. The free demo is captivating.
Commercial vendors and natural resource agencies distribute geospatial data in compressed formats. MrSID® format from Lizardtech, Inc. is one of the most common. (Many historical maps like the one shown to the left are available from the Library of Congress and other sources in MrSID format.) MrSID Viewer® or MrSID GeoViewer® both produce clear images and will export portions of images, complete with GIS world coordinates. Other useful viewers include ER Viewer™ for opening files with the ECW format or the ERDAS ViewFinder™, which opens a variety of formats.
 

HGIS® GPS mapping software from StarPal, Inc. creates GIS compatible maps and databases. It runs on Pocket PC, Windows CE or any of the desktop Windows operating systems. The program produces vector GIS maps and data tables on a desktop computer, but it is designed primarily for use on a handheld PC connected to a GPS unit.

Precision farming utilizes HGIS to measure fields and monitor planting, treatment or harvest of crops. The possibilities for real-time field mapping of any point, line or area features, however, are unlimited.

The free HGIS trial and manual are excellent tools for learning digital mapping, GIS and GPS principles. The trial is a vector editor, opening and saving SHP and MIF files used by desktop GIS programs. HGIS supports over 100 coordinate systems and can be used to convert ESRI shapefiles from one coordinate system to any other (for example UTM NAD27 to UTM NAD83). The shapefile conversion feature is enabled in all versions of HGIS, including the free demo versions.

Another handy tool in HGIS is the ability to lay out spatial grids. Grids can be made of cells, lines (swaths) or points that can be uniformly or irregularly spaced (although the free, basic, version is limited to uniformly spaced grid points). Just select the polygon you wish to fill and then pick the appropriate grid from the Map>Misc. Functions>New Grid Layer menu. The grid can then be saved in any of the formats supported by HGIS, including saving to a shapefile. (Using the DNR Garmin Tool, you could then send the grid shapefile as a series of points or a track to your GPS unit for navigation in the field. If you have the full version of HGIS, you could use such a grid directly on a GPS enabled PDA to map your data points.)
Note to ArcView 3.2 Users: If you are looking for an excellent extension that lays out either a uniform or random grid or cell network inside a polygon, see the Minnesota DNR Sample Generator Extension.
HGIS incorporates an application builder that makes templates complete with drop-down pick lists for easy data entry of map objects measured or described in the field. The free trial does not load raster images for base maps. It is time limited only when a GPS unit is attached and activated.

StarPal also offers a version of HGIS with raster image, geo-referencing and vector editing functions.

Need help selecting a color scheme for a map? Try the on-line Color Brewer from Penn State's Geography Professor Cynthia Brewer. The application explains the merits of sequential, diverging and qualitative legend types. You can select from a variety pre-formulated color schemes and then see them applied on a sample map. You can then save the color values for use in mapping or illustration programs.

Miscellaneous Utilities

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Convert is a freeware program that translates distance, areas and other units ? very useful for changing between metric and imperial measurements. (Convert is included in the fGIS distribution file.)
MapDraw™ creates property boundaries from metes and bounds descriptions found in deeds. It's a lot easier than pulling out a protractor, ruler and calculator to draw out a tract. The program handles curves, automatic closures, acreage and perimeter calculations, print scaling, multiple lots, imperial or metric measurements, etc. MapDraw 2.7, only 147KB zipped, is shareware providing both azimuth (360°) and bearing versions. The program will save a BMP image of the plot, but it is not georeferenced. See the Colorado COGO program for that.

Informatik, Inc. also offers a newer time-limited trial, now called Mapdraw Deed Mapper 7.5.

Windows Explorer can be frustrating when you want to change file extensions or make file property changes to batches of files or whole folders. PropertiesPlus™ solves the problem. After installation, access it by right-clicking a file (or group of files) in Windows Explorer and picking PropertiesPlus from the drop-down list that appears. The PropertiesPlus dialog box opens, where changes are easy to make.
UltimateZip™ is a freeware archive utility that can easily decompress TAR, ZIP and GZIP format files that are often used for geographic data.
A good screen capture program is often valuable in mapping projects. Gadwin Print Screen™ works well, with a simple interface and small memory usage.
 
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Last Updated 2/2/2012 5:37:19 PM