In defence of the Web ADF.

If, like me, you have been developing internet mapping and GIS applications for a few years (twelve odd in my case) you can see how easy it can be to develop applications to do exactly what you want to do. You can design, architect and deploy all sorts of solutions to fit into you business or integrate into your enterprise systems.

It should be understood though that in the world of GIS (can we still call it that in this neo world?) most people aren’t developers or architects, they are analysts or planners or engineers that might want to share the information and maps are creating in their desktop application or capturing in the field, they want to do this with the minimum of fuss with a set of tools that do a straight forward job.

They also want to do it now, not in six month time at the end of a project, and also they might want to do it tomorrow with the need for a change request to be placed in the system.

UX is an important thing, but it isn’t the only thing.

In the world of Flash, Silverlight and JavaScript libraries it is easy to forget that many people just want to get a job done. In the world of techno-geeks and geo-nerds (I’m a mixture of both if you want to know) it is easy to overrate the shiny-ness of technologies in the actual usefulness of a solution to get a person’s job done.

Often development and implementation is a trade off in available resources, time and knowledge. Given infinite time and resources of course it is possible to build anything (ok almost anything, don’t get picky). But we often don’t have the luxury of either. A product and client like the the Web Mapping Application, available in ArcGIS Server 9.3.1, is a technology that is currently the only way for non-developers to get web based applications out for use within an organisation. It is also currently the only option with a task framework which can easily consume geo-processing tasks and edit data in the browser, using just standard out of the box tasks. This is still as powerful a tool as it was when it was first released.

Although web development technologies have moved on since the WebADF was first developed, the power and integration possibilities with ArcGIS are still unmatched. Whilst it might be possible to develop and architect a new solution platform using the REST API the WebADF currently does much of the heavy lifting for you. The framework it provides allows for the development of true Web GIS applications, the sort of applications that many professional GIS users actually want. In the new time of lightweight solutions the Web GIS platform of the WebADF’s time might be around the corner.

With great power comes great responsibility

As with anything that has a possibility of being tightly integrated with the server the WebADF has big implications with respect to performance, especially with the fact that you can tie the development to the non-pooled services. This does throw up some architectural challenges when moving such applications from the development stage to the production stage, but certain design decisions can help with performance and a testing regime throughout the project will allow for any problems to be caught before they become an issue.