This morning I sat in on the Introduction to Topobase API class at Autodesk University presented by Dongjin Xing. I’ve made an effort to attend Dongjin’s classes every year for the past several years. He is a good presenter, and has a damn good handle on things. If you are a developer type, I recommend you consider his courses. This one was no exception.
I’ve heard people talking about Topobase for quite some time. I’ve heard good, and I’ve heard bad. Today I got my first look at the product. Topobase is a server product that works with Oracle spatial to facilitate the creation, editing and sharing of spatial data in Oracle. A client is provided with a full API and users can access data using AutoCAD Map or a web client based on Mapguide Enterprise.
The design of Topobase looks to be well tiered. Using ADO.NET and OraDirect.net it also supports connection pooling. They provide a neat VB.NET scripting interface that helps build simple workflows, and data validation rules.
All in all, everything they are putting forward looks quite cool. Visual studio templates to build Topobase plugins that can be loaded right into the Topobase UI. It could become a very cool starting point for developers/consultants to start building tools to work on data. But there are a few problems…
Topobase is by no means a new product. It’s several revisions in since Autodesk aquired it – but it still seems to have some performance problem. During the presentation this morning, Topobase took over a minute to load. Once loaded, it took over a minute to load and render a small dataset. Now, Oracle/Topobase and AutoCAD Map were running within a virtual machine, running on a notebook. Even still – that’s slow.
Now, I’m no Autodesk insider. I’m also not a business expert (but I have been learning a thing or two about it over the years). History does tend to repeat itself. I look back at GIS Design Server and Vision. Like Topobase, both of these products were acquired by Autodesk. Like Topobase, these products were ‘Enterprise Data Store’ type things. Both these products are now "not actively promoted", and customers are encouraged to migrate to Topobase. With the Autodesk stock price down – they are going to trim fat. The Autodesk reseller channel for the most part does not have the skills to use, support, or sell this tool – and it really is a developer/consultant tool. My fear about Topobase is that if I were to invest the time in learning and developing for Topobase, Autodesk will "retire" the product. Then that invested time is wasted, but more importantly the relationship with my customers is damaged by leaving them stranded up s**t creek with yet another dead ‘Enterprise Data Store’ thing.
It’s a catch 22. So its not unreasonable to think that Autodesk needs developers like us to adopt, promote, and sell Topobase to help keep it alive. I’m interested in hearing your opinions on this subject…