Years ago, when I left university I, along with some friends, set up a company to develop a GIS product. We then went after some venture capital and just around that time rumours filtered through that Microsoft were hiring some of the best minds in GIS and we thought “Oh, bugger!” our newly formed business would not be able to compete with Microsoft. We were left in a state of shock when Microsoft release MapPoint. It was rubbish! (At least it was rubbish as a competitor to our product.) You couldn’t do even half of what our product could do or our customers were asking for in terms of new features. MapPoint was strong on route planning, but that was the only competitive edge over our own product. We didn’t do route planning at all. MapPoint offered very little in the way of spatial processing and, as far as we could see, was just a very limited way to display data on a map.
However, it looks like things are changing. Spatial data support was finally released in the November CTP of SQL Server 2008. There is no graphical front end, but the processing ability is there and that is the more important part. It is easy to put a new front end on to the data. Microsoft have some solutions in that area already such as Virtual Earth and MapPoint. There are also other vendors out there who have their own, more powerful, front end solution.
My only reservation about these new abilities, at least in the UK, is that spatial data sets are very expensive. Unlike the USA the UK government holds the copyright on the data it produces and it then charges a king’s ransom for access to it. This stifles business’s ability to use spatial data effectively and it will have to resort to poorer quality datasets or being restricted in the ways that it can use the data.A business could, for example, use map data generated by OpenStreetMap. Doing that stifles the way the business can use the data as OpenStreetMap is released under a Creative Commons BY-SA (Attribution Share-Alike) license. This means that anything a company does with OpenStreetMap data must be attributed to OpenStreetMap (not an onerous condition, if they use OS data they must include a Crown Copyright notice) and the derivative works it creates must be covered under the same license – How many companies are going to be willing to do that?
According to the OSM website “CC-By-Sa do not force you to make any source data available. You are only restricted in the license you choose for distributed data”. On the face of it that sounds like companies can use the license so long as the map is kept internally. Well, I can’t really see how that is possible. If one employee creates a derivative work, say a sales chart, and passes it out at a meeting then it has been distributed and must therefore be under the CC-By-Sa license and once in that state the company cannot stop its distribution. Obviously I am not a lawyer, but that is my interpretation of the license.
Currently, I’m looking at ways to put together demos and articles on using the Spatial data types in SQL Server 2008, however I cannot us OS data because it is too expensive and I cannot use OpenStreetMap because I’m not willing to release my articles, presentations and demos (my derivative works) under that license. I’d also like to use UK data because that is where I’ll be doing my presentations/demos.
If anyone has links to vector data that I can use then I’d love to know about it.