September 12, 2007

ESRI cancels its books: loss of military contracts to blaim?

Filed under: ESRI — ubikcan @ 6:14 am

ESRI has reportedly canceled its planned line of books on various aspects of mapping and reverted to publishing only software manuals.

At the moment this is only an unconfirmed rumor, but a source tells me that a book that was contracted for and ready to be sent for printing has been canceled. All ESRI books that are not software manuals have been similarly canceled.

In recent years, ESRI had expanded its line of book publications to include regular books such as the history of public health mapping by Tom Koch, an account of the early years in the Harvard Graphics Lab by Nick Chrisman, and even a reprint of Eduard Imhof’s classic work on cartographic relief presentation. ESRI will now only publish books that support its software.

The main reason for this is still unclear but the source claims that ESRI has recently lost some large military contracts and been forced into taking cost-cutting measures, including canceling its book production. Furthermore, some US military clients of ESRI GIS have recently turned to open-source tools based on Google Earth rather than ESRI products, and it is speculated that this switch has resulted in the loss of the military contracts.

If so this is bad news for ESRI and readers of its books just as ESRI were starting to put together an interesting book list. It is also highly suggestive as to the current state of play in the geospatial world at the moment that open source geoweb tools and Google Earth are preferable to traditional GIS software.

This development can only be highly worrying for ESRI. How will ESRI respond to further challenges from clients using open source software/GE/the geoweb?

Let me just update with a link to this article from last year “Are we beginning to see a shift away from ESRI Server backend to Open Source solutions?” which received quite a lot of attention at the time.

Further update 2:00pm: Thanks for visiting, what a response! Just to clarify, I said that it is rumored that ESRI’s planned non-software books are canceled, including one that was contracted, delivered, green-lighted, and ready for printing.

The tension between traditional GIS and open source solutions has been covered here before (eg., in this article from last November) as well as on James Fee’s website linked above.

So who here does not think that this tension will only increase? And who has more information on the US military/intelligence switching to open source geoweb tools? I think GIS (including ESRI) will and should continue to play an important role in the geospatial arena, but at the same time the rise of open source solutions is of increasing interest.

(By the way I did contact ESRI more than once to get comment, but did not hear by time of publication. I would be happy to post any clarification they may wish to make.)


  1. […] Death Series: Death of ESRI? Published September 12th, 2007 Blogs I read From the blogsphere comes rumblings of possible troubles at ESRI. I’m not clear what losing miltary contracts has […]

    Pingback by The Death Series: Death of ESRI? « Free James From ESRI — September 12, 2007 @ 9:04 am

  2. […] guess why not, GIS news has been slow […]

    Pingback by Death of ESRI meme — September 12, 2007 @ 10:39 am

  3. “open-source tools based on Google Earth” ? this is a non sense… like the rest of this article …

    Comment by GeoGeek — September 12, 2007 @ 11:55 am

  4. ESRI’s competition is getting so much better. ESRI’s GIS products are way too expensive and difficult to comprehend. ESRI’s is predominantly based on 1 person Jack Dangermond vision. Just hope he doesn’t hit a school bus. Maybe Microsoft will buy ESRI?

    Comment by dutchsfo — September 12, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

  5. […] Google Earth appliances and individual projects using open-source tools but there’s been no dramatic sea-change that would drive ESRI to shutter its (unrelated) publishing business. The whole thing seems a little shaky to […]

    Pingback by The Death of ESRI… « GeoMusings — September 12, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  6. “Maybe Microsoft will buy ESRI?”

    This is about as likely as BMW buying Yugo. Microsoft is not in the habit of buying technology cripples like ESRI.

    Two or three years after Microsoft rolled out the technology ESRI still does not run native 64-bit in x64 Windows and they still don’t support Vista. Whatever key Microsoft technology you care to name, from ADO .NET to Vista, ESRI has either been years late or has missed the boat entirely. They’ve missed just about every trend in modern technology outside of Microsoft as well.

    ESRI does not support multi-core processors, they still cannot connect native to spatial DBMS packages, they make no use of web-based image servers, they have no integrated object model, their quality is awful and their topology algorithms are primitive. They don’t even know what NVIDIA CUDA is, let alone be able to utlize it.

    Collectively, all that obsolescence is a big deal. Install a web server with dual quad core processors and you have eight cores hammering away in 64-bits for not much more than the cost of a single core old-fashioned server. Run a modern IMS on that for about $200 and you can connect to things like Oracle Spatial or Katmai directly and you can absolutely eat alive the ESRI bundle of IMS plus SDE middleware (whatever they are calling it these days) that still runs single core and 32-bits and costs you tens of thousands to boot. This is a no-brainer.

    People in the military may be hampered by the inertia of the procurement process, but ultimately they will find a way around the process to avoid getting saddled with antique software. They want 64-bit, multi-core, multiprocessor, supercomputer performance today in their GIS software, and they can get it from modern GIS vendors for about 1/40th the cost of a legacy GIS vendor like ESRI. No wonder they are moving on to get what they want.

    Comment by Dimitri — September 13, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  7. The military is paying well into the six figures for Google Earth fusion server. How is this free or even open source? If that’s free I have a free bridge to sell you 🙂

    Comment by JOD — September 13, 2007 @ 10:30 am

  8. This is highly suspect. Even if some books are cancelled, and they MAY have lost a few contracts. it’s a bit of a stretch to extraoplate this to the wheels coming off the whole organization.

    While interesting, propogation of wild conjecture like this is not (in my opinion) particularly useful.


    Comment by Dave — September 13, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

  9. Dave,

    I’m glad you posted this comment because it allows me to point out (once more) that nowhere in the original article was it implied or stated that the “wheels coming off the whole operation.”

    That is neither my belief nor my expectation or even my wish. What’s not useful here is (some) other people exaggerating or distorting what was said (I’m not referring to your comment). Perhaps this post will help.

    Comment by ubikcan — September 13, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  10. Ubikan, why don’t you tell us where you got this information? Or maybe that’s where the real problem is, not at ESRI.

    Comment by JBM — September 14, 2007 @ 11:26 pm

  11. This is a case of the market righting itself. ESRI has always been a specialist’s tool and, usability gaps aside, it is dominant in that space.
    Their failure has been in the presentation tier.
    Until recently anyone who wanted to make a reasonably accurate map was saddled with the prospect of an expensive, unusable ESRI solution.
    Now that there are fantastic visual sources for map presentation platforms with immersive interaction, like Google Earth and Virtual Earth, there will naturally be a pruning process in that market – a market where ESRI has certainly not thrived.
    People know what they like. Scientists and analysts like ESRI, everyone else…

    Comment by John Nelson — September 24, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

  12. […] Posts ESRI cancels its books: loss of military contracts to blaim?Mapping censorshipBook of the week: The Uncommon ReaderAnthropologists get hot about MacKinnonPhilip […]

    Pingback by “Peer-to-peer cartography” « ubikcan — October 3, 2007 @ 8:44 am

  13. Why does this seem like such an unbelievable prospect to some people? There are SO many options to choose from between Open-Source and proprietary software and each has it’s strengths and weaknesses.

    I am an avid ESRI user, but that does not make me blind to the fact that there is software out there that BETTER does what I want it do do without breaking the bank.

    ESRI is a terrific piece of software, but for a small company, it is not the answer. It has way to much overhead. I have had to accept that open-source GIS is the way of the future. i wouldn’t hire anyone without it.

    Comment by geospatialjunkie — November 19, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

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