A R Dasgupta
Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Applications and Geoinformatics,
Computer applications have become ubiquitous. Gone are the days when a computer was a standalone system on which applications were run by specialist programmers who mediated between the users and the system. The development of the microchip and its use to configure desktop, laptop and handheld computer systems has resulted in the programmer becoming a background entity and the user now directly interacts with the system through a simple user interface like Windows. At this level of ubiquity the user still has to have some familiarity with the operating system and some computer operations.
However, with the advent of information devices like the cell phones, digital cameras, MP3 players, DVD players and PDAs even the computer has receded into the background and the user now needs to know only how to operate each device. Applications are now invoked at the press of a few buttons.
This level of ubiquity has been achieved by embedding the computer and the applications in the device in such a way that the user does not have to be aware of its existence.
Further, the user is now an individual and not a part of an organisation and the system caters to his or her unique needs and preferences. We see that as a consequence of this emphasis on the individual the information has become portable as in the case of the MP3 players, or remotely accessible as in the case of a cell phone. Technologies and applications have converged into a multifunctional, portable and always-connected device which acts as a PDA, a cell phone, an MP3 player and a camera.
Information systems and in particular spatial information systems are also following the same paradigm. If we look at the taxonomy of GIS we see that circa 1996 user involvement extended from purchase of GIS services from experts to enterprise level GIS where GIS services were available as a part of the enterprise information systems. In enterprise GIS we still need GIS trained personnel to operate the system. These experts use the tools provided in the software to create outputs usable by subject experts.
The next level of evolution has been the migration to desktop GIS and handheld computers. This has made GIS available to a user in his or her work environment. In fact, by moving a desktop GIS to a laptop or notebook has given it a degree of mobility that was not available in an enterprise GIS. The interfaces have become simpler making the usage more intuitive.
However, if we look at the analogy to the IT scenario outlined in the preceding paragraph we see that GIS has to evolve further in order to be able to achieve a comparable level of ubiquity. The current approach of a versatile system which meets all the requirements of different users has to give way to a system which can easily be configured to each individual’s needs as and when and where ever it is needed. GIS has to become ubiquitous and embedded GIS is the next evolutionary step.
Fig 1 Web enabled GIS interface