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A Look At ArcInfo 8

By: Joseph Kerski, Geographer, Education Outreach - USGS
Joseph recently spent 4 days at ESRI in training on ArcInfo Version 8 and thought this summary might be handy for other Arc users. You might not currently use ArcInfo 8, but those of you that work with GIS in academia-city-county-state-fed-private industry may be doing so in the future.Please feel free to share you opinions of the latest release of ArcInfo by contacting or

Joseph feels that ArcInfo 8 represents the first fundamental break with the basic philosophy of storage, analysis, and database manipulation that ESRI ArcInfo has had since the mid-1980s. While it is a rather big paradigm shift that takes some getting used to, it is exciting to witness.

He observes that ArcInfo 8 is built on 3 main modules: ArcCatalog, ArcMap, and ArcToolbox. ArcCatalog allows you to browse your data, both graphical and textual, set and view metadata, and manage your data, in an interface somewhat like Windows Explorer.

ArcMap is a GUI-version of a combination of Arcedit and Arcplot. ArcMap shows your data in "layer" files... sort of like a theme in ArcView. You can edit, perform queries, do analysis, graph, and run reports in ArcMap. The graphs and reports have a great many more options than that which existed in INFO before. You have a great flexibility with custom designing all GUIs to suit your needs. Your "personal geodatabase" is stored as an .mdb file - a MICROSOFT ACCESS DATABASE!

ArcToolbox is the GUI for running ARC commands. Many of the commands we've used for years even have wizards now associated with them to run you through the syntax, step by step. Most other commands have tools in ArcToolbox.

Arc 8's GUI looks somewhat like ArcView, particularly ArcMap, but the developers have not merged ArcInfo's GUI with the ArcView GUI, in querying, for example. So, the overall GUIs are quite distinct and separate. For those of you who only use ArcView, think of ArcInfo as doing all of ArcView's functions plus 1000 more--"sort of an ArcView on caffeine".

Who ever thought users would be dragging and dropping coverage names from ArcCatalog into ArcMap? But that's one nifty feature now available to ArcInfo users in this version. Another is the "verify" command which tests your syntax for queries before you execute them, so you don't have to type them in again if they don't run the first time... very handy!

In addition to the above 3 major modules, you can still run ArcWorkstation, which kicks you out to the familiar command prompt where you can run traditional Arcplot, AMLs, Arcedit, GRID, and other sessions. ** However, the ArcInfo 8 intent is clearly to steer users toward the above GUI tools, because the functionality/development effort clearly is there and will be there increasingly in the future. So, you'll make life easier for yourself if you try to use them as much as possible.

Arc8 is built on Component Object Models (COM) architecture (by Microsoft). That means you can build your own COM objects and custom features, such as a "building" that is not a standard point/line/area feature. These features can have rules, i.e., a local street can only intersect a hwy via an on-ramp, since it is built on the object-oriented structure.

Some closing words from Joseph: Good news - there is a fairly functional SDTS converter in ArcInfo. The symbology, ODE tools, and the generalization functions have been expanded. ODE will allow you to use Java applets.

The best books to obtain on this topic are from ESRI: "Getting Started with ArcInfo," "Using ArcToolbox", "Using ArcCatalog", "Using ArcMap," and "Modeling Our World--ESRI Guide to Geodatabase Design."

Joseph J. Kerski, Ph.D.
Geographer - Outreach
Box 25046 - MS 507
Denver CO 80225-0046 USA
USGS: Science for a Changing World

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