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Spatial News Review

Mapinfo vs ArcView
by: GeoCommunity Staff (April 1999)

Boy, I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I posed the question: "What do you think are the pros and cons of Mapinfo and ArcView. If you responded to me don't be upset because I didn't reply - my mailbox has been very full for the past 3 weeks!

Let me start by clarifying a few things. I did not specify what versions I am comparing so keep in mind that many people are griping about Mapinfo 4.5 and ArcView 3.0 issues when there are fixes to their problems in the latest version. In case you're not aware, both products released upgrades last year - Mapinfo 5.0 and ArcView 3.1.I feel its worthwhile hearing from the MI 4.5 and AV 3.0 users because there are many users that have not upgraded yet.

Products that were excluded from this comparison are not presumed inferior or superior. I simply wanted to get some real users opinions on what they liked about the 2 products. I'm on the Mapinfo-L and ESRI-L and read threads from both sides on a daily basis. What occurred to me was that there are many people, like myself, that use both products on a daily basis (I also use Genamap, AutoCAD Map and PC ARC). Each product has its ups and downs so I'm going to relay to you what REAL USERS feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the two products.

Mapinfo Pros:
  • Popular in the business community
  • Relatively short learning curve
  • Relatively simple programming language (MapBasic)
  • Simple to alter attribute table structure
  • Excellent mail list (Mapinfo-L) a real community
  • Good re-projection utilities
  • Areas, lines, points, text can be stored in same table (.TAB)
  • Ad-ons (ie. Vertical Mapper) are relatively cheap
  • Lots of users in Geology community
  • Easy to edit/manipulate workspace file (a workspace is a group of tables, map layouts etc basically a saved session)
  • Nice 3-D add on (Vertical Mapper)
  • Simple Query building
  • Superior Object Linking & Embedding (OLE)
  • Nice Layer control

  • Mapinfo Cons:
  • Mapbasic (programming language) is a separate purchase
  • AutoCAD (DWG & DXF) import/export seems unstable
  • Lots of confusion between text and labels. Problems sizing.
  • Griding, graticule functions are poor
  • Poor Topological editing/creation
  • Difficult Layout Legend manipulation
  • Price for upgrades
  • Layout is not always WYSIWYG
  • Gripes about Website (especially the redesign)

  • ArcView Pros:
  • Popular in Resource sector
  • Simple to Join attribute tables
  • Window handling (i.e. The way it manages views, scripts and layout windows is very tidy)
  • Avenue (programming language) comes bundled with ArcView
  • Large user base - world wide community
  • Lots of available data and utilities (scripts)
  • Lots of pre-defined analytical functions
  • Many pre-defined symbols and line-styles
  • Easily reads all Arc data formats
  • Simple menu/tool bar editing
  • Thematic mapping wizards
  • Nice website

  • ArcView cons:
  • Won't reproject on the fly - to view multiple themes they
  • must all have the same projection definition
  • Redraw when turning themes on/off
  • Lengthy directory scan when adding themes
  • Program locks-up
  • Only re-projects from lat/longs.
  • Non-standard menu structure (difficult to locate commands)
  • Clunky to import or use a script
  • Probs. With long file names/directories
  • More difficult programming environment

  • Common gripes about both:
  • Layout window complaints (this is where you arrange your maps for cartographic output)
  • Documentation
  • Price
  • Labelling/annotation

  • These essentially summarize how actual users feel about Mapinfo and ArcView. Basically, it all depends on your level of expertise, your learning curve, and what you expect when you start out.

    Here are my perceptions. MI seems to appeal more to novice GISers, whereas people that have been around GIS for some time are more likely to become ARC users. I'm not a die hard programmer type, but I do find that MapBasic is simpler to learn than Avenue. I really like the way you can have a Mapbasic window open in Mapinfo and simply watch the code scroll by (or copy and paste it) as you invoke commands - what a great way to learn the code. Mapinfo labelling gives me head aches all the time and the non- WYSIWYGness (is that a word!) is a pain. Here in B.C. it is common to have data stored in several projections including lat/long, UTM and Albers Equal Area. This poses a real problem when using ArcView because all coverages must be stored in the same projection - talk about filling up your network drive in a hurry! Well that's my 2 cents worth.

    I have seen ArcView 3.1 in action but I haven't seen Mapinfo 5.0. I can say that the ArcView upgrade is HUGE. They have fixed a lot of problems and I expect that they will get many new users as a result. I haven't heard as much positive feedback regarding Mapinfo 5.0 and it seems that many users are reluctant to upgrade mostly for financial reasons. The real Mapinfo keeners seem to be embracing the new version though so you may want to get on the Mapinfo-L and discuss it. I use both products but I likely use Mapinfo more and have used it longer. If I seem biased it was not intentional. To get the answers you are seeking I would recommend taking the products for a test drive yourself!

    Here are the main features promoted in the upgrades:
  • ArcView 3.1 - Price $1,195
  • Hundreds of new symbols
  • Will convert Shape files to Projected units
  • Thematic wizards
  • ESCape key stops redraw - YAY, FINALLY!!!!!
  • ESCape key stops directory search for themes
  • Label/Text menu Tool
  • Neatline Button
  • Graticule extension - this is slick!
  • Export layout to JPG, WMF, BMP, EPS
  • Crystal Reports report generator
  • Mr. SID support extension
  • Expanded data included

  • Go to the ESRI web site to find out more

    Mapinfo 5.0 - Price $1,295
  • Continuous Thematic Shading
  • Improved ODBC Connectivity
  • Improved CAD import/export
  • 498 Page Reference manual on CD

  • Go to the Mapinfo web site to find out more

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