Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lewis and Clark Sure Could've Used This

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lewis and Clark Sure Could've Used This

Article excerpt

I DIDN'T blame the computer for the flat tire in the snowstorm. I went along with its suggestion to leave Interstate 90 for Interstate 94 and then cross over again a few miles later. But when I reached Rolling Prairie, Ind., on US 20, I knew something was wrong.

This wasn't going to be the quickest route from Chicago to Pittsburgh, no matter what the computer said.

This was my maiden voyage with a pioneering software program called Automap. Designed to help drivers get around, it can calculate the shortest route from Dayton to Des Moines, Miami to Walla Walla.

It's fun. More important, it's part of an explosion of computerized mapping on desktop machines. That's why we stick with pioneering software. We always end up in interesting places, even if occasionally it takes the wrong turn.

Computer mapping has long been the province of big mainframe and minicomputers. Utilities, emergency services, and other entities used computer maps to monitor their territories. That was fine for people with the money and sophistication to use the tools. The small businessperson was left out in the cold.

No longer. Computer mapping is moving to the desktop in forms that are cheaper and easier to use than ever. The market is taking off as a result. Automap has sold roughly 400,000 units in the two years it has been in the United States. Another player, Strategic Mapping, has doubled its size in each of the last two years. Even companies established in the high end of the market are moving their products to the personal computer.

"I think '93 is going to be the big push for it," says S. J. Camarata, worldwide marketing and sales director for Environmental Systems Research Institute. Two to three years ago, this market leader sold twice as many large-system software packages as PC-based units. Today, over half of its unit sales are PC products.

The software is selling so well because geography turns out to be a surprisingly useful way to look at data.

Retail stores can figure out where their sales are coming from. …

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