I am facing the desktop GIS trident: ArcMap, QGIS, ArcGIS Pro. Three tines. Which one should I take?
In my earlier cycling metaphor I compared selecting bicycle pedals to selecting GIS software tools. The pedals debate is over (Speedplay won); the GIS debate still rages on. I have analyzed and overanalyzed. I have consulted with the wisdom of crowds (Twitter) and the wisdom of individuals (Twitter DMs). I have considered various platforms, data formats, and multiple combinations and permutations thereof. It is time to wrap it up.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” –Confucius
I begin with a 30-day challenge: use nothing but ArcGIS Pro for all my day-to-day GIS activities. I will document my experiences — good and bad — and I will update this post continuously with a running tally of said experiences. I will sum it all up on March 15.
Here we go.
- DAY ONE , February 14, 2019: The challenge begins. QGIS and ArcMap and ArcCatalog icons stare at me from the Windows 10 taskbar. I do not click on them, which feels weird. I click on the ArcGIS Pro icon next to them. I am greeted with a warning: “Pro Advanced will expire in 14 days.” Stress levels go up. We always pay our bills, but sometimes we are late. What will happen on March 1 if our P.O. doesn’t make it to Redlands in time? ArcMap and QGIS never give me that kind of stress. At least all my data is on our local network. I click OK. ArcGIS Pro 2.3 launches. I single-click on a recent project. Project loads. I see my map. Some of my data is in a file geodatabase (FGDB), some in shapefiles (SHP). At some point I will need to replicate a Desktop process to periodically export a FGDB feature class to SHP and manipulate said SHP (delete and add fields) before I upload the SHP into a proprietary system. I’ll also need to replicate a separate process where I join an SHP to an Access database. I’ll attempt all of that next week. Today I’ll just tackle some light tasks. I create a custom basemap from custom aerial photography. It works. I merge two polygons. The process is smooth, similar to ArcMap’s. I hit the Save button. Does it save the project, or the merged polygons?
- DAY TWO , February 15, 2019: “Pro Advanced will expire in 13 days.” Okay then. I open the same project. My custom base map is gone, even though before shutting down yesterday I clicked every Save button I could find. What did I miss? OK, it’s right there in the documentation — the custom base map has to be saved in the project you want to use it in. You can’t share custom base maps across projects. I recreate the same custom basemap in the current project. On to Catalog. Add Folder Connection works just like on Desktop. It does not auto-refresh, so if you add a new file to a connected folder you won’t see the file until you hit Refresh. Deleting fields in SHP took considerably longer than the same process in Desktop, but not a big deal for me. Adding fields is similar to Desktop, while the ability to add more than one field at a time is a welcome improvement. Now let’s join this puppy to an MS Access table. Wait, what? No MS Access support in Pro? I found a discussion on an Esri support site, basically saying don’t use Access. I beg to differ. One of my workflows is constrained by hard external factors, and one of these factors is “use Access”. Another is “use SHP”. So I will continue to use Access and SHP. But I should be able to find a workaround. Export Access table do DBF doesn’t work because long field names get truncated, effectively resulting in trying to have the same field name more than once in the same table, which DBF doesn’t like. Export to Excel and then join SHP to XLSX works. Whew! The world’s most popular database saves the day.
- DAY THREE , February 19, 2019: “Pro Advanced will expire in 9 days.” Got it. I click OK. ArcGIS Pro crashes. Should I send a report to Esri? I don’t always do, but I decide to send a report this time. Report sent. Launching Pro again. “Pro Advanced will expire in 9 days.” OK. Pro runs. First I address a blog comment question from Nancy von Meyer: “Can you make a starting project with your custom base map and save that with just the base map then open it and save as something different and have the custom base map in the saved as project?” I try this. Yes, you can, and this is a convenient way to save and reuse your custom basemap. Thank you for the suggestion, Nancy! Next I decide to tackle a monthly GDB maintenance task — “Compact”. (There is also “compress”; find the difference between compact and compress on your own.) It is unclear whether it’s safe to run Compact while having the same GDB in a map in the same project. I decide to run the process on a scratch GDB and see if something blows up. Compact runs, nothing blows up. I reindex a feature class in the scratch GDB. Nothing blows up. Save project. Close Pro. Open Pro. All my stuff is still there — custom base map, recently-compacted and reindexed scratch GDB, production GDB. On to compact and reindex the production GDB. Smooth sailing. (In recent weeks I have been getting error messages while editing and saving this same GDB in ArcMap. Errors were blamed (incorrectly, IMHO) on bad network connection. Very curious to see whether the same errors on the same GDB will crop up in Pro. So far they have not. Good!)
- DAY FOUR , February 20, 2019: Day of routine tasks, already written up in prior days. No surprises — good or bad. Pro just works.