Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Should I Upgrade GTViewer to a newer Version?

I frequently see customers running older versions of GTViewer. Granted, there is an update to GTViewer on a fairly regular schedule, so it would be impossible to be on the latest version all the time. If you haven't upgraded GTViewer in a while, it might be time to take a look at what you missing out on.

There are many reasons customers stay on older versions of GTViewer. The main reason is that it does what they want and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, the current version of GTViewer is 10 (with 11 around the corner) and there have been significant new features added in the last few years. If you are currently on Version 5 or Version 7 (there was not a version 6), then you should probably take a look at what is new in the last several major versions. Even if you are on versions 8 or 9, it would be worth looking at what is currently available.

The list of enhancements since GTViewer version 8 was released is lengthy (539 items in the Readme.txt), but I am restricting my list below to new features that are visible, offer something that is substantially new, and will be beneficial to many users.

GTViewer Version 8:

  • Features Tooltips – Feature Tooltips are pretty much exactly what their name says. You can hover the mouse cursor over a feature and see its attributes in a tooltip without having to select the feature or change modes. Unfortunately, you have to define which features can have tooltips and what these tooltips will contains, so many users may not be aware that this feature exists. However, it is a very powerful tool that can provide a great increase in user productivity without much effort.

  • GPS Reference Point – The GPS Reference Point came from Pocket GTViewer. It is simply a marker you can place in the view, and the GPS Indicator will point (and/or draw a line) to the marker wherever it may be. The GPS Reference Point has evolved somewhat from what it started out as in Pocket GTViewer. You can place one when you locate a feature with a Query, you can Right Click and place one, or you can use the GPS Reference Point dialog to place one. You can also automatically fit the Reference Point and the GPS Indicator providing a “poor mans” navigation tool (and is surprisingly useful when trying to get from Point A to Point B and you don’t have sophisticated enough data to support our street routing applications).

  • Enhanced Redline editingGTVx had more sophisticated redline editing capabilities than GTViewer for several years, but the best of these features (Delete Vertex, Break at Vertex, Add Vertex) were brought over to GTViewer to give more control over the redlines. Simply select a redline and right click on it to access the new features.

GTViewer Version 9:

  • Favorites – Favorites were a much requested feature and have turned out to be a very useful addition to GTViewer. Think of them as Bookmarks in your Internet Browser. You can create a Favorite and it will store your Display Settings and current location along with a user provided name. Then simply select the named Favorite from the Favorites menu to return to that location and display settings. Favorites also allow the administrator to define a static set of Favorites in the .GTM file that will be made available to everyone.
  • Applications Menu – Prior to GTViewer Version 9, all custom applications were placed under the Query menu. The Applications menu was added to provide an alternate location for your custom applications, and it is often very useful when the custom application doesn’t fall under the “Query” category. You can now place a custom applications under the Query menu, the Applications menu, or both.

  • ToolBoxes – Truth be told, Framme Field View supported a feature to create Palettes which assign Queries or Applications to buttons on floating panels. The desire to have such constructs undoubtedly came from Microstation and Framme with their plethora of tool palettes. When upgrading customers from Field View to GTViewer, some users expressed the desired to have their Palettes (obviously they weren't used to seeing so much of the map at one time, ha ha). So, to make everyone happy, GTViewer got a shiny new set of ToolBoxes (which is what we call them). You define them in the .GTM file and they can activate Queries and launch custom applications just like Field View, but we didn’t stop there. ToolBoxes can activate Display Presets, activate GTViewer Commands (toggle raster, toggle emphasize mode, set the active mode, fit, start GPS, and much more), Toggle Feature Display (which turns on or off sets of categories or features), modify the background color, change the current style map and def files, and individually control the display of non-category raster files. On top of that, one or more of the above actions can be strung together to form complex actions tied to a single button click. The buttons are also able to change color based on their state, so Display actions will be one color when its items are displayed, and another when they are not. The same for the GPS Tracking, Raster Display, and Emphasize Mode making the ToolBoxes more tightly integrated into GTViewer. As it turns out, ToolBoxes have been a very useful feature in GTViewer, and we see new and creative uses for them all the time.

  • Custom Print Labels – GTViewer has always had standard labels that the user can specify for the print border (including date, time, filename). There is also a Note field the user can use to add any other information to the border. You can now have up to 10 custom label prompts on the Print Dialog. They are defined in the .GTM file with the Name and a Default Value. They can also be set to remember the last value entered as well.

  • Hatch Fills – Style Definitions can now specify a Fill Style for fillable elements (shapes, ellipses, circles). The Fill Style can be the default solid that it has always been or Downward Hatch, Cross Hatch, Diagonal Hatch, Upward Hatch, Horizontal Hatch, and Vertical Hatch. Hatch Fills are special in that you can see what is underneath them.

  • Custom Attribute Info Tabs – Sometimes a feature will have a dozen tabular components with the important information spread across several records. The Attribute Info dialog will allow you to easily flip through the different records by going through the tabs; however, wouldn’t it be nice if you could pick out the important information and put it on the first tab? That is what a Custom Attribute Info Tab does. For a feature, you must define a list of attributes (from any of the feature’s associated records) and they will appear on a synthesized tab that always appears first. All of the important information can be made available at a glance, while the complete records are still available on the other tabs.

GTViewer Version 10:

  • Dynamic Graphics –This feature is probably the single biggest addition to GTViewer since it was created 10 years ago. Dynamic Graphics is composed of two distinct components: Dynamic Highlighting and Dynamic Labeling. Dynamic Highlighting allows the user to specify rules for highlighting graphics in the view using one or more of the feature’s tabular attributes to determine the highlight style (color, weight, style, fill). This highlighting can be used to emphasize certain features (such as all gas mains of a certain size or pressure, primary conductor by phase, etc.), or it can be used to render an alternate view that is independent of the GIS’s defined symbology. The second component, Dynamic Labeling, allows the user to specify rules for labeling features using one or more of the feature’s tabular attributes (both in the criteria and the label itself). These labels can be used to augment the display with additional labels that were not defined in the GIS or with labels that are specific to a task. Dynamic Labels can also take into consideration the part of a feature that is visible in the current view and adjust the labels position accordingly.

  • Extensive Command-Line options – GTViewer has had minimal command-line option support up until this version. In the past, you could specify a .GTM, .GTX, or Session file (.GTS) to start up with, but that was it. We had multiple requests for the ability to integrate GTViewer with various other systems (work order management, ticketing systems, etc.). These systems could launch an external application and supply information on the location via command-line parameters. So a variety of command-line options were added to GTViewer allowing you to locate on an X/Y coordinate or a latitude/longitude coordinate, run a query with provided prompt information, set a GPS Reference Point, activate a Display Preset, set the Emphasize state, activate a Favorite, Start the GPS, and set the active mode. GTViewer will also respond to the command-line options even if it is already running, so a nice integration is now available with other systems with very minimal effort (and no custom coding).

  • Expression support in Custom Attribute Info Tabs and Feature Tooltips –The Dynamic Graphics addition to GTViewer included an extremely powerful expression evaluator (which can process rules on the fly using feature attribute values to determine what a label will be or if something will be highlighted). Consequently, this expression evaluator can be used for other things such as allowing you to define expressions in the Custom Attribute Info Tabs or in Feature Tooltips. This subtle leap in capability now allows you to do formatting of the data you want to display in a much more sophisticated fashion. Instead of just listing a single attribute on a line with its values, you can now build a string to display by concatenating one or more attributes and constants together and checking to see if something is blank or if it meets a certain value.

  • Custom Raster – While not currently in widespread use, this is an interesting feature that allows images to be embedded in the main geographic view. These images could be detail drawing or any image to enhance the usability of your data.

GTViewer Version 11: (available before the end of the year)

  • Rotated Views– (Available now in the latest Version 10 updates.) We have been asked about rotating the view in GTViewer almost from the beginning. There are a couple of specific uses for this feature that we tried to address. First, data may have streets at let’s say a 45 degree angle, but you want to print this data with the streets at right angles. You can now do this by rotating the view 45 degrees and printing. Second, GPS Tracking has been available in GTViewer for some time; however, users want the tracking to work like it does with a handheld navigation GPS where the map is rotated so the current heading is always at the top of the map. This feature is now available as well.

There are many new features that I didn't list above. Many of those that I left out were to help out a customer with a specific problem; however, it is very common for one of these enhancements to be useful to someone else (more times than not it seems). See the current GTViewer Readme.txt for the comprehensive list of enhancements.

1 comment:

Wade said...

I think you may have forgotten to point out the user interface doesn't change from version to version so updating gtviewer on a large scale isn't likely going to even be an issue with an upgrade/version change on the user level.