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December 18, 1995

Maptitude offers unbeatable mapping value for Windows

Last week, I described a kind of price war that has broken out among vendors of mapping software for Windows. The latest entrant into this battle is BusinessMap, a $99.95 product from the Environmental Systems Research Institute, in Redlands, Calif. (ESRI, [800] 970-0033 or [909] 793-2853). As I wrote last week, BusinessMap can read PC spreadsheet data as well as information from ESRI's mainframe-level ArcInfo mapping software, and it can show address locations on a map. But BusinessMap can only pinpoint an address on a map down to the ZIP code level, because the product does not include detailed street information.

A better value for those who need to map addresses from databases is software called Maptitude, from Caliper Corp., in Newton, Mass. ([617] 527-4700). Although Maptitude lists for a higher price -- $395 -- the product includes more features and data than other products and is arguably the least expensive serious mapping tool available to Windows users.

Given a spreadsheet or database file full of name and address information, Maptitude can automatically locate (or geocode) most addresses down to a single point within a city block. The resulting maps can be displayed and printed in a wide variety of forms, and the mapped addresses can be automatically labeled with a name or other information that identifies each point.

Besides coming with a complete city street database, Maptitude includes a CD containing an awesome array of U.S. Census data. Among the more than 500 data items available by census tract are (take a deep breath) population, age, marital status, education, race, household income, housing value, rentals vs. owners, and so on. Caliper also sells census data broken down to "block groups" (containing an average of 1,000 residents) and individual city blocks. Each data CD lists for $195. City block data does not include some variables, such as income, that the government doesn't release due to privacy concerns.

This wealth of demographics is a powerful selling point. Before Maptitude, the same data was sold by vendors for thousands of dollars.

Maptitude excels at allowing you to create districts (such as sales territories, school enrollment areas, and so on) by subdividing any map. It also has a simple "routing" capability to provide driving directions between points you select.

If Maptitude has a weakness, it is its separation of automatic and manual functions. Automatic labels, for example, cannot be dragged into new positions on a map. You must use manual labels to do this. Similarly, you must select points manually to use Maptitude's routing feature.

But these quibbles take nothing away from Maptitude's value as the first serious mapping tool at this price level.

Brian Livingston is the coauthor of the new Windows 95 Secrets and author of three other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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