ArcGIS Pro: An honest review

It’s been a while since ESRI announced ArcGIS Pro, a clean and revamped version of the ArcGIS Desktop. After a long exhaustive wait for a proper 64-bit geoprocessing and mapping environment ESRI has finally introduced something completely modified out of the scratch. This new version has a lot of new and interesting feature – can visualize, edit, and perform analysis in both 2D and 3D, it’s multithreaded and support 64-bit processing, new set of symbols, tools, workflows in a completely new user interface. There is a lot of excitement in everywhere for this new application.

So I decided to download the trial version of ArcGIS Pro 1.1 and have a look.

ArcGIS Pro: First impression

ESRI lets you register for a trial license of ArcGIS Pro for 60 days along with few essential extension. You will get the link of the trial download page and the ArcGIS Online account at your confirmation email. Once inside the ArcGIS Online account, you will have to set the privilege for the license type and extensions. Installing the application is quite straightforward, use the same username and password to start ArcGIS Pro.

We don’t want the program to login to the account and check for license in each startup. In Project menu, under Licensing select Authorize ArcGIS Pro to work offline. ArcGIS Pro has some difficulty with any preinstalled Python, so if you already have a python installed disable your PYTHONPATH for the time being. At this stage you will meet a window to create and edit map projects. I decided to create a Map.aptx called MyProject. Throughout this demonstration you will meet a lot of new file types and workflows like this.

ArcGIS Pro is a 64-bit software, no support for 32-bit PCs. ESRI wanted to introduce a lot of new workflow mechanism and toolchain activities which is different in ArcGIS Desktop. ‘ArcMap Document’ is now ‘Project’, ‘toolbox’ is ‘geoprocessing’, ‘table of content’ and ‘attribute table’ both lost ‘table’ from their names. The ‘content’ window can list features by their snapping status and label class. Moreover, both DirectX and OpenGL options are available for display rendering. You have the freedom to change this interface completely. But before that you will need some time to find all the useful features, and there is no global search option to help you out. A side by side comparison of all these new tools can be found here.

Some of the smallest and most essential utilities now has something new. The snapping toolbar has three more option – the intersection snapping, midpoint snapping and tangent snapping. The measurement tool looks better now.

The layer context menu has most of the useful options.

The new ‘Attribute table’ has a new look and feel.

The ‘Calculate geometry’ window is now a geoprocessing tool. The ‘Definition query’ has also improved.

The ‘Geoprocessing tools’ aka ‘Toolbox’ lists all recently used ones under favorite tab. The ‘Analysis gallery’ is as good as ‘Favorites’. I couldn’t find two of the most useful toolbox options – batch and debug. The ‘Task’ tool can be way around.

Starting a “GIS job”

Projects are a new way of organizing everything related to your map. The Projects (.aprx) lets you start your work in blank or with preinstalled templates. ArcGIS Pro can import your .mxd, .sdx and .3dd files and converts them to its own format. So do not expect your .mxd’s will function without any glitch, besides Python 3 is in action. Projects can even be shared like Map Packages (.mpk).

The ‘Symbology’ is no longer attached to the context menu. ‘Colorbrewer’ is now a part of symbology color scheme. You have all the essential symbology options available, but not the styles as it is in ArcGIS Desktop. The ‘graduated symbol’ in my pc crashed sometime. I couldn’t find the chart option. The labeling toolbar tried hard to home all the familiar choices in one place. You have a truck-load of fonts, but limited font styles. I was hoping not only for a prettier but also an intelligent labeling system.

Editing and geoprocessing

Edit whenever you like, no starting and stopping editing (which may cause accidental edit, so be careful). The small ‘editing status’ utility will help you to identify any edit time complexities. Templates can be a very powerful tool. The floating ‘tool feedback’ does its work. I couldn’t locate the advanced editing features (ie. COGO, Percel editing, Topology etc).

The geoprocessing capability has been the crown jewel of ArcGIS Desktop since its beginning. It’s the simplicity and robustness of the ‘Arc toolbox’ which made it the number one choice of all the GIS professionals for decades. In ArcGIS Pro, these tools remained in their boxes with very little changes. The tools can now dock together and ‘actually’ show progress bar. The geoprocessing history shows all the messages, errors and statuses in one place.

Here is list of all the tools those are currently not available. As mentioned before, the ‘Task’ feature can work instead of batch option.

What is task? A task is a set of preconfigured steps that guide you and others through a workflow or business process. A task can be used to implement a best-practice workflow, improve the efficiency of a workflow, or create a series of interactive tutorial steps. – as described by the website. Tasks are easy to create and can also be shared. It can be used to create an automated workflow to work for similar geoprocessing request which operates and manages different other processes or groups.

This is a very promising addition, I will look forward for more.

The ‘Modelbuilder’ has its charm in a separate pane. The ‘merge branches’ can merge multiple logical branches into single output. The color scheme changed a bit.

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  1. realy tiered esri

    July 3, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    on the frist look it seems to be really smart.
    After 18 Hours of work and About 20 crashes later i can see, that it is all Makeup: Ist the same bugged s*** like all teh yesars bevor, in deed ist even worse.
    – Basic functions, like Feature Datasets don’t work correctly,
    – creating shapfiles is nearly impossible,
    – Performance is an absolute fail (on a new high end processor!)
    – Crashes occure regulary without anny reason
    – Working on Symbologies an Labels is getting even more complicated. Each menue taks eterneties of time for loading

  2. They suck. I am writing this while being on hold with customer service for the past 2 hours.

  3. Dawn,
    your Python script tools continue to work in Pro with some exceptions (arcpy.mapping). So your work is not lost.


  4. Thanks for the insightful review. Since I’ve left consulting and joined the ranks of the average user, I rarely handle a new release. I was intrigued by the offering and inspired to consider ArcGIS Pro instead of upgrading from 10.x to 10.x+1.

    Your review of the layout coincides with undercurrent I’ve been perceiving that ESRI no longer wishes to cater to paper output. I wonder if they forgot to ask “How can we make map production better?” Clearly they asked How can we make analysis more streamlined and intuitive?”, which I am grateful for. But in my business I need both!

    And it sounds like they didn’t consider that we might have a lot of hours invested in existing python-based toolsets. One of the core reasons I’ve waited to step up from my current version, is that many pieces of customized code do not work in the later releases, because libraries changed.

    I will test it too on a spare 64 and ask “How can I stay current without having to recreate a thousand lines of custom code?”

    • Thanks for the comment Dawn. Even if it’s a ‘half-baked’ version of the original ArcGIS software, let’s keep our faith on ESRI’s state-of-the-art ‘user tolerance testing’ strategy and wait for the future 😉