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Thread: GIS: Manifold or ESRI

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    GIS: Manifold or ESRI

    Anyone out there have any experience with the Manifold system? All the little town I colsult for needs is a simple application that is easy to use and can do basic maps. The Manifold is 1/3 the cost of ARCView so that's a big plus. But I don't know anyone that has used it.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Are there issues of compatibility that may need to be addressed. There are a huge number of state and federal agency GIS files that can be accessed in an ESRI format. If there will be any difficulty with Manifold, then the cost savings is more than negated. I think there is also an issue with software familiarity. Can any person experienced with GIS use Manifold or is there a learning curve? Can Manifold be delivered over the web? All of these questions should be answered.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    ESRI is the gold standard. Never skimp on IT.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    I have never heard of Manifold.
    ESRI has a number of products now that are free especially for the light user. As a small town I would check with your county ( next larger govnment enitity/ state organization) for some assistance. We have a huge amount of information local to KS on a website available for down load and ESRI passes out ArcView Licenses all the time. If one of the larger entities can help you, then they can set you up will fairly simple mapping applications.

    ESRI is the standard like Microsoft why would you go anywhere else.
    GIS is for sharing of information. That is the only way it works. A governements information is not theirs to keep to themselves but to share to the betterment of the community.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Thanks all. According to their website, Manifold downloads from the web, accepts ionput in a host of formats (Tiger files, etc) and interfaces with Google earth (and another aerial photo source I can't recall off the bat) so you can overlay maps over aerials.

    Ah Queenie, to a Mac guy your comment about being the standard like Microsoft????

  6. #6
    Dan Staley's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Richi View post
    Anyone out there have any experience with the Manifold system? All the little town I colsult for needs is a simple application that is easy to use and can do basic maps. The Manifold is 1/3 the cost of ARCView so that's a big plus. But I don't know anyone that has used it.
    ESRI likely won't go out of business. Never heard of Manifold.

    If Manfold output isn't in .mxd or .shp format, will the next consultant be able to use it? What if your capabilities expand and The Software We Never Heard Of isn't compatible?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    I've used Manifold, and I didn't like it at all. When I used it, it was based on the Microsoft Jet Database engine, which IMHO is not very good. Plus, they had some real issues with product activation keys that never got sorted out to my satisfaction.

    I think you're asking the wrong question, though. It's not just ESRI or Manifold. There's also Maptitude and MapInfo, as well as many other more esoteric packages. I learned GIS on MapInfo, then switched for years to Maptitude, and was able to satify all of my GIS needs with both. If you're looking to spend less money, Maptitude is a very good product, though I think the layer editing is a bit weaker than in MapInfo or ArcGIS. The Census Bureau uses Maptitude for redistricting and many transportaon planners are familiar with its sibling TransCAD. MapInfo is now Piney Bowes MapInfo and is used a lot in the marketing world.

    Personally, I hate ArcGIS because the user interface is klunky (I hate the toolbox) and the database engine is very inflexible (just try to rename a variable). But it works, and its "unique" user interface means that people who learned GIS on ESRI products may not easily take to other products. I really think ArcGIS is inferior in many respects in usability (not in final results) to other packages (it certainly isn't the "gold standard"), but its what most people are trained on today, so its hard to go wrong by choosing it. But do yourself a favor and check out the competition first.

    BTW, I'd almost recommend looking at GRASS GIS, except that the learning curve is steep and its user interface makes ArcGIS look like Microsoft Paint. But it is free.

  8. #8
    About a year ago I purchased Manifold for my home setup since it's much cheaper than ESRI and is self-contained without the need for additional extensions. Although there are a few things I don't like about it, and yes, the licensing is a pain, I think it's a very powerful GIS and a superb value. Some of the analysis features are brilliant and extremely easy to use. Unlike ESRI, Manifold has never crashed on me.

    Manifold has a decidedly different software model than ESRI and the only other GIS program I've used - TransCAD. In general, it's set up more like a combination of GIS and graphic design software than simply a GIS. Probably most importantly, geographic files are stored in projects as 'drawings' or 'images', rather than referenced as shp files, or whatever the case may be. You can still import and export as shp or a variety of other file formats, but when you make changes to a layer in one project, those changes don't carry over to the same or similar layer in another project. For beginners (and probably many other users), I find this to be a better/more straight forward way of handling geographic files.

    The only problem I've had getting files from public data sources into Manifold is with MrSid files, which the Manifold documentation claims to be an inferior file format.

    Many experienced GIS people on the Manifold users forum have switched to Manifold from ESRI, or use both, and claim to prefer Manifold. They're both very powerful, and ESRI is probably ultimately more powerful, but for the average planner a lot of what drives up the price of ESRI will never be used.

    Also, Maptitude is probably a nice application if it is basically a limited version of TransCAD, which it seems to be.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Thanks emeraldcloud. The program will be used by beginners and at first for a tree inventory (using the USDA iTree program) in a small town. We just received a grant, and have yet to purchase the software to map the tree locations.

    What did you mean about the licensing being a pain?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    Ugh. Licensing is a pain because they license it like Windows and only give you five license keys. In fact, that's what your buying: the ability to install and reinstall the program five times (each time with a new license key generated for you by Manifold customer service). So, if your hard drive craps out over the weekend and you need to reinstall Manifold, oops, too bad, you have to call customer service and have them issue you a new license key for reinstallation. Or, if you upgrade your computer, same thing. When we were testing this program, for various reasons we ran through the five keys pretty quickly, and then that was it. No more Manifold unlesswe bought another full license.

    Why did we keep uninstalling and reinstalling? Well, I remember one initial installation (first key), one hard drive crash (second key), one blown installation because of a software installer problem (i.e. Manifold's fault) (third key), reinstallation on another computer because it ran so effin slow on that other computer (fourth key), and there was another key in there somewhere for reasons I can't remember.

    Talking about the license keys reminds me how little I actually liked Manifold. When I tested it a couple of years ago, it was slow, it didn't handle large files well, and it was limited in what it could do without buying lots of add-ons. For example, I found it surprising that I had to pay extra money to have the ability to interface with an outside DBMS.

    In fact, if you include the things that I would expect a GIS system to actually be able to do (access outside databases, geocode data, do surface analysis, and have spatial analysis capabilities), you have to buy the "universal edition" for $575, which is $80 more than Maptitude. More money for a slower, less capable product that limits my ability to reinstall it on new computers or after hardware upgrades? No, thanks.

    Maptitude, on the other hand, handles large files extremely well, is relatively fast, and comes with all the basic GIS tools included along with lots of base data. Plus it comes with its own script language, GISDK (in fact, the Maptitude program itself is written in GISDK, so it is really just a collection of scripts), that allows you direct access to the internal workings of the system. This is the reason why the Census Bureau and the USDOT choose Caliper to supply programs like the LUCA MAF/TIGER Partnership Software (MTPS), because it is so flexible and customizable. (BTW, my own personal copies of Maptitude 4.6 and ArcView 3.3 have now been on about 8 computers (only one at a time, thank you), and I have never needed to ask anyone for permssion to do that.)

    If your budget really is tight, if you want to have software that you can keep reinstalling on new machines forever without license hassles, and you want a GIS that just works, I recommend staying away from Manifold and buying Maptitude.

    Just one man's opinion.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JimPlans View post
    Personally, I hate ArcGIS because the user interface is klunky (I hate the toolbox) and the database engine is very inflexible (just try to rename a variable). But it works, and its "unique" user interface means that people who learned GIS on ESRI products may not easily take to other products. I really think ArcGIS is inferior in many respects in usability (not in final results) to other packages (it certainly isn't the "gold standard"), but its what most people are trained on today, so its hard to go wrong by choosing it. But do yourself a favor and check out the competition first.
    I also hate ArcGIS for the same reasons. I also hate government and academia for forcing a monopolized market for GIS products.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Thanks guys - I'll check out Mapitude

  13. #13
    When I said licensing is a pain, I was referring to the need to install in admin mode, and that, like JimPlans says, the number of available licenses is limited. That said, I've only required one and it installed just fine. There is a very extensive documentation section on installation, which if followed, should minimize hassles.

    Otherwise, I agree that Manifold can be slow, especially with aerial photos (Manifold doesn't like MrSid files!). There is also a bit of an adjustment using Manifold compared to other GIS programs. It really is a different approach to GIS. For example, you can cut and paste within and between layers. That is a great thing to be able to do, but in my experience other GIS systems don't allow that very easily. Similarly, a "layer" can have lines, polygons, and points. Again, a very different approach. It's more like a combination of GIS and Adobe than strictly GIS.

    As for comparisons to Maptitude, I've used Transcad (a more deluxe version of Maptitude) for 3 years, and I love it for transportation analysis and basic GIS stuff, but I assure you that the non-network spatial analysis features in Manifold are leagues beyond Maptitude and Transcad. Many of these features would in fact require add-ons in ArcGIS too and are simply unavailable in Maptitude.

    Also, Manifold has plenty of scripting options and is a quite capable database management system. It can also link to external databases, so I'm not sure where that comment was coming from. See http://www.manifold.net/doc/manifold.htm for details on all it can do - it really is impressive for the price. And also look at the user forum, you'll see some folks doing very advanced GIS work using Manifold over ESRI (you'll also notice a very annoying Microsoft-centric viewpoint from the Manifold folks )

    I'm not saying Manifold is perfect for everyone, but it is very flexible, very cheap, and fully-featured compared to other options in that price range. For a quick out of the box GIS, but with limited functionality, I would go with Maptitude. For a longer-term investment, I would tend towards Manifold.

    That's my two cents

  14. #14
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    My experience of ESRI products is limited, and in an academic environment, but they did seem very unstable - I gave up using them because of crashes. I've used Mapinfo for several years, and it's effective but a bit clunky as new features have been bolted on rather than designed in. Its screen refresh is desperately slow. And now I'm told they insist on a maintenance contract being taken along with the latest release.

    When I came across Manifold I was so impressed I bought a private copy before persuading my employer to take the system on (funding each licence from savings made by not taking Mapinfo's annual maintenance). For my purposes it's blisteringly fast - screen refreshes that took Mapinfo multiple minutes every time a layout window was moved take 1-2 seconds in Manifold, even without their recommended nVidia CUDA graphics card. The analysis features and database handing are excellent. The only thing I can find that's slow is exporting some maps to raster formats, but I don't have to do much of this. A couple of statistical presentations (eg markers proportionally sized by population) that Mapinfo handles easily as part of its thematic mapping are not available in Manifold, at least without writing your own scripts. The comment in another post about the Jet database engine must refer to a very old version, as Manifold now prefer 64-bit Windows, which rules out using Access/Jet.

    It does take some familiarising, mostly because the amount you can do by cutting and pasting is far more than people who've previously used other GISs expect to be possible. Still, the online documentation is very good, and Manifold's never once crashed on me. Yes, the licencing procedure is a pain, but not a deciding factor, given the low cost of a full licence.

    I'd recommend giving Manifold a good look.

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