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Autodesk Open Sources Web Mapping Software

Software productivity maker Autodesk is gearing up for a new generation of Web mapping applications after it contributed its MapServer Enterprise code to the open source community.

The latest move adds an enterprise offering to existing open source mapping efforts currently underway. MapServer Enterprise is Autodesk's next-generation of its MapGuide software, which helps users create features in mapping systems, as well as integrate paper maps, designs and automate vector data for map-producing and for producing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications and data.

GIS systems are essentially systems that store and allow for the analysis of geographically-referenced information. GIS is deployed in asset management, resource and development planning among other industries and are used to help make sense of geospatial data. The MapServer Enterprise solution includes the MapServer Enterprise Server which handles requests and provides Site, Resource, Drawing, Feature, Mapping, and Rendering services.

Autodesk is perhaps best-known for its AutoCAD software that revolutionalized industries that use software to render images, notably engineering, animation, and video gaming.

The MapServer name is no stranger to the open source community. It is actually the name of a 10-year-old application that has been out for ten years and is itself open source as well. The existing MapServer application will now be called Cheetah to differentiate it from Autodesk's contribution. Both MapServer Cheetah and Enterprise will be available via the newly created MapServer Foundation, an independent non-profit tasked with promoting and supporting open source Web mapping.

MapServer Enterprise works with Java , , and PHP tools for both Linux and Windows for deploying geospatial applications.

Gary Lang, vice president of engineering for Infrastructure Solutions Division of Autodesk, said the process of open-sourcing MapServer Enterprise took two years.

"We have determined that the open source, iterative approach to development is the best approach we can take for a server-based product like MapServer Enterprise," Lang told internetnews.com.

The bulk of the MapServer Enterprise server technology is available under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). Autodesk is also contributing its feature data objects (FDOs) technology as open source as well. These provide an API for spatial data interface.

"This is the spatial equivalent of ADO and Intergraph's GDO," Lang explained. "We are releasing all of the source for most of the data providers, including MySQL, SHP, and ArcSDE."

A snapshot of the MapServer Enterprise source code is now available on Autodesk's site.

The full MapServer Enterprise open source project Web site is expected to be available in early 2006. A full commercial version of Autodesk MapServer Enterprise is also expected to be released in 2006.

Lang said the difference between the snapshot released today and the full project release is better usability from the developer's point of view. Autodesk will also be providing data loading tools later on, which will be made available in open source as well.

Lang has a few clear ideas as to what constitutes success for the open source release of MapServer Enterprise.

"If MapServer Enterprise can get developers excited enough to contribute one feature, that would be a success," Lang said. "In effect, we would like to see the community take ownership of Enterprise's future and run with it along with us."

"If that happens, and we will do everything we can to enable the community to do this, we will feel successful."