World Wide Telescope – Microsoft’s best kept secret?

Ok, maybe not a secret but a very powerful and functionality-rich app from Microsoft Research, World Wide Telescope is almost a Google Earth on steroids but for which you hardly ever hear about:

From web to desktop to full dome planetarium, WorldWide Telescope (WWT) enables you to explore the universe, bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world and combining it with 3D navigation.

And it also includes an add-in for Excel where in theory (it didn’t work for me) you can visualize lon/lat temporal data from your Excel spreadsheet.

As they put it on the LayerScape website:

Suppose you have spatial data that is time-tagged, so your minimum data set is a location—latitude and longitude—and a date. And suppose your data is in an Excel spreadsheet. By installing the WorldWide Telescope Add-in for Excel, you can highlight and “push” your data into the visualization environment in seconds. Update your data, and the visualization updates automatically. Save the data, send it to a colleague, and they can see what you’re working on and add their data. The collaboration possibilities are many after just a few minutes of learning about the new Excel ribbon.

Some pretty interesting stuff. Just wondering why Microsoft hasn’t made any more fuss about it.

ESRI’s brilliant marketing move and what Open Source GIS can learn from it

ESRI has announcedESRI Maps for Office”, an Excel add-in which will be available in public beta the first half of 2012. So imagine: You have all your Excel data, all the power of Excel for analysis and now, you can also display this data on a map WITHIN Excel to explore and analyze it in a whole new way.Fantastic – no?

It probably is. ESRI hasn’t released any information about pricing or licensing (e.g. would you need to have ArcGIS installed on the desktop to use the add-in?) but this is beside the point. In this post, I would argue that the real story here goes far beyond of having another tool in Excel. It brings “GIS” or at least thematic mapping, to thousands (millions?) of new users who till then probably didn’t have anything to do with maps or “GIS” (btw, the quotes are because we still don’t know what kind of spatial/mapping functionality will be available).

This move by ESRI, penetrates -in a big way- a previously untapped market. And this is a lesson Open Source GIS companies can learn a lot from.

In a recent blog post, Sofia Parafina, argues that the release of TileMill for Windows will be the game changer for the adoption of open source mapping. Why? Because, she says 84% of the computers in the world run some variant of Windows (actually in the link she provides this is higher-85%). And also because till now, there was a lack of good cartographic tools for open source programs running on Windows.

I beg to differ. In her own post she states that:

…it’s rather bare bones in that there is no tool to select a feature and set the line style, color, or fill in a menu. You have to create each style using MSS in a TileMill editor, …

So here we go. Another glorified notepad. Don’t get me wrong. I have played with it, its great and I am sure it will help. You can now create thematic maps more easily. But I very much doubt that will be a game changer and people will suddenly queue to download open source GIS.

BUT, providing a –say- QGIS add-in for Excel might do the trick. Do you want some more stats? According to Microsoft, 500 million people worldwide use Microsoft Office. Although this claim may be rather excessive, even empirically, if 85% of computers run windows, most new computers come with some version of Microsoft office, and even WITHOUT including pirated copies, well… you get the picture.

So to finish the same way I started, imagine: You have all your Excel data, all the power of Excel for analysis and now, you can also display this data on a map WITHIN Excel to explore and analyze it in a whole new way by downloading an add-in for Excel for free! .

Now, this IS a game-changer!