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Below are some examples of software packages of interest to the GeoPad community.  They are arranged into the following general categories:


ESRI offers a broad suite of Geographic Information System (GIS) applications.  (Many universities and government labs already have site licenses for the software and, therefore, you may find you already have "free" access to it.)  While we have experimented with many of ESRI's GIS products, including ArcView, ArcPad, and ArcGIS, our efforts have focused on the stand-alone versions of ArcGIS/View (8.x and later) for the GeoPad and ArcPad (6.0.x and later) for the GeoPocket. 

MapIt is another option which focuses specifically on combining the power of GIS and TabletPC digital ink.  We haven't had a chance to try it out extenstively yet, however, it looks very powerful and promising.  It integrates a number of desirable features all in one page, such as, GIS, digital ink, and linked notes.

For an off-the-shelf solution with commercial support ArcGIS and MapIT are excellent solutions; however, there are also free GIS applications that are worth considering, particularly if cost is a critical issue.  MicroDEM is one great example.  Well-integrated TabletPC or PocketPC pen-based mapping capabilities, however, are generally still on to-do lists for open-source GIS software.

In early versions of ArcGIS we had to create our own custom TabletPC mapping capabilities using ArcObjects; however, with the release of ArcGIS 8.2, integrated support for TabletPC "Digital Ink" and real-time GPS became available through the TabletPC and ArcGPS Extensions for ArcMap.  As of ArcGIS 9, the functionality of these two extensions has been directly integrated into the core capabilities of ArcMap.  This significantly reduces the "computer-savviness" threshold required for adoption, as it effectively eliminates the need for programming skills, while at the same time resulting in an easy-to-use, intuitive tool for both novice and advanced geoscientists with widely varying computing backgrounds. 

We have also evaluated ArcPad for use with PocketPCs, a.k.a., the GeoPocket.  ArcPad provides a significantly reduced set of mapping functionality, commensurate with its reduced hardware capabilities. The main difficulty with integrating the GeoPocket in education settings is the reduction in screen real-estate, which generally proves too significant to support useful educational mapping activities.  In such settings the necessity of viewing observations within the framework of a sufficient level of contextual information is very important. For advanced users, as in research settings where the user already possesses strong spatial reasoning skills and is intimately familiar with the subject matter, then a GeoPocket platform offers an suitable highly portable, inexpensive solution.  For novice users, when the focus is on data collection and interpretation in a spatially-simplified context (e.g., a magnetic or gravity survey along a transect, orienteering exercise), then the limited capabilities of the GeoPocket are sufficient for the task.

In our pilot study of teaching geologic mapping using the GeoPad, the primary ArcGIS component students encountered was ArcMap.  We customized the ArcMap interface to provide a single toolbar containing the necessary functionality to support our geologic mapping exercises (e.g., tools for outcrop, strike-dip, fault, fold, observation, foliation).  We also relied on the Tablet PC Extension's support for digital ink to provide intuitive, free-hand data entry for objects like outcrops, contacts and fault lines.  And, to integrate real-time GPS data, to aid students in determining their location on the maps, we used the ArcGPS Extension. [As of  ArcGIS 9, the functionality of the Tablet PC digital ink and ArcGPS extensions have been directly incorporated into ArcMap; if you are still using ArcGIS 8.x, then the extensions can be obtained free-of-charge from ESRI.]

Customized ArcMap project files, with pre-configured symbologies and appropriately clipped contextual data layers (i.e., DRG - topographic map, DOQQ - aerial photography, and DEM - digital elevation model) were supplied to the students as the starting point for each mapping exercise.  (In courses where teaching GIS skills is part of the curriculum, students can learn to assemble the projects themselves.)  Data collection was also simplified by creating custom personal geodatabase files, using ArcCatalog, for each project, which use database domains to pre-defined the suite of formations and features anticipated in a particular mapping area, therefore, enabling intuitive data entry via drop-down menus. 

Students were also introduced to ArcScene, which enabled them to explore their observations, in the context of topographic maps, aerial photographs, etc., within a 3-D framework. This allowed students to directly view and work with their observations and supporting data in a 3-D environment while still in the field area. The most recent versions of ArcScene (in ArcGIS 9) supports both the traditional "2.5-D" as well as true, stereoscopic 3-D visualization environments.  The figure at the left shows a 2.5-D view of a scanned USGS Geology Quadrangle, while the image to the right is a screen shot of a student's outcrop observations overlain on an aerial photo, both draped over a 10-meter DEM.  (Note that this mode of 3-D viewing is directly compatible with the Geowall; therefore, enabling you to incorporate your GIS data directly into the classroom without any conversion or modification.)  By using ArcScene in stereoscopic-mode and providing students with easy-to-use Pokescopes or "Red-Green/Red-Blue" glasses, they have access to true stereoscopic 3-D visualization and manipulation capabilities directly in the field.

In the summer 2003 geologic mapping case study, we used ArcGIS 8.3 Service Pack 2, with the TabletPC and ArcGPS ArcMap extensions.  For our summer 2004 work, we upgraded to ArcGIS 9 Service Pack 1, which incorporates the functionality of these extensions directly into ArcMap and adds stereoscopic 3-D to ArcScene. In Summer 2005 we moved on to ArcGIS 9 Service Pack 2, and most recently this Fall we have migrated to ArcGIS 9.1.

Digital Field Notebook

Our initial efforts during 2003 used Windows Journal as the digital field notebook. Subsequently, with the release of OneNote, as part of the Microsoft Office suite, we have switched to that application, which offers significant advancements in functionality. 

Some of the key features of OneNote as a field notebook include:

  • very easy, simple, and intuitive to use all around
  • intelligent recognition of text/image "blocks" for easy reorganization of notes by dragging-and-dropping
  • ability to insert white-space anywhere on-the-fly so you don't have to cram missed information in between or out of order
  • typical suite of digital drawing tools
  • simple screen-clipping support for annotation of information from other sources, such as documents, figures, digital camera images
  • linking of notes to locations in ArcMap
  • hand-writing recognition works quite well; however, there is generally little desire or need for this capability in our uses cases, students and researchers should be able to read their own hand-writing [Note: you should install Windows XP Tablet PC Service Pack 2 to access significant improvements in hand-writing recognition capabilities.]

Examples of OneNote use as a field notebook by 2004 student's :

GPS Utilities

A wealth of GPS utilities exist for various GPS-related tasks.  One of the more important tasks is to share data from the GPS simultaneously with multiple applications.

  • Xport
    • We've been using Xport3 to share our Xplore's xGPS with ArcGIS/ArcMap 9.1, DeLorme Topo USA 5.0, DeLorme Street Atlas 2005, and Microsoft MapPoint North America 2004.

GPS Mapping

There are a variety of easy-to-use, commercially available GPS mapping applications that generally include a digital data base layer of some kind:


There is a wide variety of stereonet software out there, from fully featured commercial packages to some really nice freeware and shareware products.  We generally use one of the following packages:

  • Stereonet by Rick Allmendinger (free for academic use)

SpheriStat 2.2 supports stereoscopic viewing of stereonets, however, it has not been updated recently and the demo does not appear to run under Windows XP.

Other Interesting Software

Visit the Geowall website for links to a variety of interesting -- and generally free -- advanced software packages for data analysis, visualization, and exploration. 

Also, note that ArcScene, as of ArcGIS 9, has integrated support for stereoscopic viewing on a GeoWall, which enables you to work directly with your GIS data in stereo without requiring any additional software or data conversion.

Miscellaneous software of interest:

  • MathJournal - "math and equation" hand-writing recognition software from Xthink.  A great way to introduce advanced modeling exercises into the field setting; simply using Excel in the field also works well for that.

  [] [updated 27-Jan-2010 ]
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