Browsers: QGIS vs MapInfo 11


Warning: This post contains small rants! You have been warned.

PBBI have recently released MapInfo 11, the new version has brought one change that I think deserves some attention – even if for the wrong reasons.

MapInfo’s browser window was in need of a very good make over; it didn’t follow normal keyboard conventions, eg holding shift to select rather than ctrl; couldn’t sort via the headers; keyboard navigation was poor; and it looked ugly. PBBI then announced that MapInfo 11 would have a new “improved” browser. I thought “Sweet! About time” and then we got a copy. /sigh

So what’s the problem?

First off it’s slow to resize, this would be due to them using .NET WPF for the new browser (I have never seen a good fast .NET WPF datagrid).

Then we have sorting, which is meant to be the cool new feature. This is not the normal just click on the header to sort the column, no because that would be too easy, you have to right click in the browser, click sort and select the options which then opens a new browser window. um what?

Yes this is a pretty handy feature but no it shouldn’t be the only way to sort, you should have a click on the header kind of sort. This seems to be what people wanted.

Next. No visible scroll progress. When you move the little scroll box on the side the browser waits until you have finished to show you the data. I guess the old browser did this too so why change it!

And finally shift click to select a block of rows doesn’t work, I mean come on this is not a hard thing to do.

Surly you can dock it? Nope!

In the end we have a browser that is pretty much the same as the old one but slower……oh and has alternating row colors.

Overall reaction: Disappointed

Enter QGIS

Now if you are reading this blog you are well aware that I am a huge fan of QGIS, I don’t really make that a secret. So I guess the overall point of this post is to compare the QGIS attribute table (browser) and the new MapInfo 11 one.

Lets run though the same list as MapInfo.

Slow to resize? Nope. Even with a large table open the resize speed doesn’t change.

Header based sorting? Yep. Just click the header and it will sort that column. Multi column sorting is on the to-do list.

Live scrolling (results update as you scroll)? Yep + no lag.

Shift click to select blocks of rows? Sure why not. Or you can hold ctrl to select rows all over the grid.

Docking? Yep and floating so you can put it on a different monitor if you need.

Bonus

The QGIS attribute table has a built-in search/filter box, saves having to run a query and have a new window like in MapInfo if you just want to filter the browser.

The QGIS attribute table (browser)

Extra Bonus
The QGIS browser can even have other UI objects inside the cells. Very bloody handy.

Combo box in browser table.

You can even have a calendar date picker if you want.

Lets review

Feature MapInfo 11 QGIS
Good resize speed. No Yes
Header sorting. Yes [See update] Yes
Multi column sorting. Yes [1] No [2]
Live scrolling. No Yes
Shift click for blocks of rows No Yes
Docking. No[3] Yes

[1] Why does it need to open a new browser window? At least make it an option.
[2] On the to-do list

[3] Yes you can use http://www.pbinsight.com/support/product-downloads/item/windowhelper for this support. It’s a good tool go and download it. I just think it should be built in.

Doesn’t look too good for MapInfo at the moment. QGIS is even accessing the TAB data though ogr. Quick tip: if a free program can access and manage your data faster than you, you are failing.

My work place spends a good deal of money on our annual MapInfo “maintenance” licence, money I would happily send to the QGIS project if I had the choice. Or at least part of it,

Data

Both programs opened a 27000 row .TAB file.

Just for the record I’m not anti-MapInfo. It still has some features that I really like. I just wish they would pick up the game.

Update for 11.03 patch

As promised in my comments this is an update to reflect the new header click sorting in MapInfo Professional 11.03.

The 11.03 patch has added header based sorting, and while the sorting works as expected which is good, there is something a little odd.

What is the typical sort pattern? Left click header, table sorts ascending click again and table sorts descending or vice versa.  Then you normally have any extra sorting stuff in the right-click menu e.g Sort Ascending, Sort Desending, Clear Sort etc.

Go into MapInfo 11.03 left click header, context menu appears 0_o…  I’m not aware of any program that  has ever done that.  A menu on left click is not normal, even crappy ol’ Lotus Notes doesn’t have a menu on left click and Lotus Notes is one really crappy program.

Nuff said.

P.S Don’t talk about your new feature i.e the browser, following normal conventions for browser style windows then do something no one has ever done….and still no shift click block select.

P.P.S I know it may sound like a constant bashing but really something like this should never got passed review. I know UI is hard but come, on a context menu on left click…

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16 thoughts on “Browsers: QGIS vs MapInfo 11

  1. MapInfo Pro V 11 Browser will have full right click sort and filter in patch release, scheduled for December. You can select block by click and drag or use Ctrl select for none contiguous records. There is a MapBasic tool free to download called Window Helper that allows docking of windows. If promoting QGIS then fair play, but you don’t have to inaccurately bash MapInfo pro to do it.

    • A patch really? Is this mentioned anywhere public? How about they do it in the first release and then it might have been worth the hype they did for the release. Patches are for bug fixes not adding missing features that should have been there to start.

      Click drag is not the same speed wise as selecting row one and scrolling though to a random number and holding shift then click to select the whole block.

      I know about the free tool for docking windows, I know the guy from PBBI that wrote it and he borrowed some of the code I used in my dock mapbasic tool, but why relay on a Mapbasic tool when it should be built in.

      I’m not bashing MapInfo, I’m just stating the facts as I see it. If the patch in December changes things, then I will happily review my post.

      • Ok, Firstly the patch releases are common knowledge as far as I know, they were talked about at the official launch at the user group and its in the “official” PBBI launch PowerPoint. As I understand it the code simply wasn’t ready in time for the June launch date, so rather that force users to wait another 12 months for the next full release they are including it in a patch.

        I take you’re point on the click select, one good thing here is the “Suggest Product Enhancements” which are read and noted, as I know the guy that collates them all;. if you don’t like something, suggest it, it works.

        I am currently passing the tool around the users I know as it is so useful , I suspect that the release of the tool is a step before full inclusion.

      • That’s fine. When the patch comes out I will review the post. I have no problem doing that, it’s only fair game.

  2. Nathan I agree with your comments – why does it take a patch that is months away. Have have been using MapInfo 11 and are quite disappointed. I tend to frustrated with it and either use QGIS which is becoming a valid GIS in a production environment (on a corporate level) or ArcGIS.
    The days where commercial software was the innovator have long gone.
    Good post and worthy rants – hope the feedback gets to PBBI mapinfo asap.

  3. > If promoting QGIS then fair play, but you don’t have to inaccurately bash MapInfo pro to do it.

    What exactly was innacurate?
    This is a valid question: If they can do continuous selection by click and drag why on earth can’t they do Shift-click?
    And after all these years why are the fundamentals of the Mapinfo GUI still so bad that people have to find addons to sort it out?

    > /rant When QGIS, an open part-time only devs project, is smashing out features and changes with every release MapInfo is going to have to really push to stop their user base slipping out from under them. /end rant

    I can’t see MapInfo pushing hard… the last couple of releases have had a few minor changes which greatly improved the usability, but they’re hardly catching up to QGIS in that area. And their main trouble is that Mapinfo can’t actually do much without buying a bunch of addons as well.

    Unless they start giving away these addons or something I can’t really see them competing in terms of features. But then, maybe they don’t care – they seem to focus on the big organisations with clueless corporate IT departments that are sucked in by marketing buzz-words and would never dream they could use a free product.

    I’m eagerly awaiting my copy of MapInfo 11, but I doubt that we’ll renew our maintenance. The main reason we did last time was because we thought there was a possibility we’d need to get ArcGIS, and would get a discount for migrating from Mapinfo ;)

  4. (I won’t pretend to be neutral… I’m a MapInfo supporter, and frankly haven’t even tried QGIS yet, so take everything I say with a grain of salt…)

    First: At the top you took the time to (justifiably) criticize the old MapInfo browser for keyboard navigation, keyboard gestures, and “ugly.” Given that, I think it’s only fair to acknowledge that the new browser does make improvements in those 3 areas. Ctrl-backspace while cell editing, arrow key navigation, etc.

    Second: 27,000 rows is pretty wimpy for what some users do. The new Pro browser seems to be the same speed with half a million rows as it is with smaller tables. Have you tried larger tables with QGIS? I wouldn’t be surprised if that live scrolling might require QGIS to have all the data in memory, and that might not work so well for much larger tables. Just a semi-educated guess.

    But, overall: yeah, the new MapInfo browser feels incomplete, and I would hope for something in a maintenance release. I haven’t read anything about that yet, but it’s early; v 11 just came out. I agree, shift-click in particular should be added, I’m just not sure what the best channel is to communicate that request, to maximize the chances of it being done for the next MapInfo maintenance release.

    • “First: At the top you took the time to (justifiably) criticize the old MapInfo browser for keyboard navigation, ”

      This is true that area is better then the other one.

      I know 27000 rows is pretty weak. I just tried QGIS with a table with 270000 rows (on a slower machine then the post) and the resize speed was the same. I will follow though with more testing.

  5. > Some of us care about performance and productivity.

    Generally those of us who actually need to do _work_ with the products ;)

  6. MapInfo is still using the same d-base/ C+ / MapBasic engine since it came out in 32-bit (and THAT was based exactly on the old 16-bit engine). They’ve had 20 years on Windows and the program remains stuck with the limitations of the old dogs from which is was whelped. What should have long been standard inclusions to address shortcomings in the product, remain expensive add-ons. It remains materially the same “desktop mapper” as it was in 1992.

    I’ve loved MapInfo since DOS days, but the program is condemned to wallow in the early 90′s with ill-thought feature additions, and half-ar53d long-overdue attempts to correct early dodgy design shortcomings. So long as the company remains focused on sales, rather than focused on producing great software that remains conceptually up to speed with the rest of the IT world, they will become more and more of an anachronism, eventually to be killed off by shareware.

    They need to get some eager creative bright young guns into their product development team, and have them led by someone under 35 with a bit of vision to put some bark and bite back into this old dog. Until then our cash is spent on better things than MapInfo 1.1 – sorry, 11.

  7. seems they spent more time on the marketing blurb than the product.

    An extract from the official information sheet:

    “The new browser window offers advanced data entry options and follows the latest industry practices that result in a simple yet effective alphanumeric data entry experience”

    made me smile at least :)

  8. Interesting discussion, as a pro user of Mapinfo I was very disappointed with the browser function changes, and am honestly pissed with having to find out about this patch in this forum. I use Global Mapper, and Qgis for specific tasks and in both cases the speed of development is refreshing. As an organisation we have recently decided to replace MI with the ARC suite, this is primarily to align our suite with the other Regional Govt orgs here in NZ. Moving to the ARC suit has it’s frustrations, but overall it is a much more mature product, who’s browser actually works as expected :)

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