Data stored in Excel is much easier to manipulate and is far easier to share than data stored traditional GIS-based mapping programs - so for those whose primary goal is analytics, rather than mapping, this is a big win. So far reviews have been good - with the analytics community almost surprised that Microsoft has done what appears to be a pretty good job.
Per Curtis Wong, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, who started out working on a tool for astronomers before launching an application for broader audiences:
“With the dramatic growth in geospatial and temporal data we wanted to explore new tools that could help us understand the large-scale temporal and geospatial trends that affect businesses,” he said.
“The goal always has been to bring dynamic, interactive data visualization to the business world. Yes, we built a gigantic virtual telescope, but to do so, we had to build an engine that could visualize the universe. If we can visualize the universe, we can visualize almost anything else.”
"The premise is simple - put your spreadsheet records on a map - and it executes with little difficulty. The user just needs a column with placenames (or coordinates), and the rest of the columns become thematic options in a 3D map without having to leave excel. The defaults are novel and in some cases visually appealing - which is fortunate because there's not a lot of tweaking you can do (Until Microsoft exposes a Visual Basic UI. Heaven help us.). The orthographic perspective is nice and the application did a better job of figuring out my data structure than excel usually does.
A quick roundup:
- Only available on Office 2013 for now.
- It's the antithesis of open-source but they get a temporary pass because excel is ubiquitous. I look forward to the LibreOffice Calc plugin.
- The Nokia-based geocoding is solid, with only one misfire to null island.
- The map UI isn't intuitive, but I'm not exactly sure if there is such a thing as intuitive 3D navigation. Maybe this is one for the Leap Motion developers.
- Not portable. Unless there's some feature in the Office365 version that I'm missing, this is Geoflow's biggest shortcoming. The one nod to the desire to show your map somewhere other than in your cubicle is the "Copy Screen" button. Which I already had on my keyboard.
- The tour function is clunky, roped to a jerky graphics engine that tries to load every zoom level of tiles even after you've arrived at your stop. This happens every time, suggesting there's no tile caching at all.
- There's a nice selection of default map themes from Bing Maps, but they have trouble in the orthographic environment. Labels and imagery are slow to load, and text keeps its north orientation even if you want the Hobo-Dyer projection.: