On April 19 the Open GIS Consortium, Inc. (OGC) made the new OpenGIS (TM) Web Map Server Interface Implementation Specification available on its public web site ( http://www.opengeospatial.org ).This specification represents a remarkable technical and commercial breakthrough. Previously, complex technical issues and lack of industry consensus have kept the “where” out of most distributed information systems. Now the Web is “spatially enabled.” Software with interfaces conforming to this specification will enable automatic overlay, in ordinary web browsers, of map images obtained from multiple dissimilar map servers, regardless of map scale, projection, earth coordinate system or digital format. By itself, this is an extraordinarily useful capability, but it also provides a foundation for interoperability involving more sophisticated geoprocessing capabilities. Already, the OpenGIS Web Map Server Interface Specification works with catalog services defined in the OpenGIS Catalog Services Specification. This enables creation of “spatial search engines” for queries of thousands of map layers for which data providers have provided “metadata” (data about the geospatial data).Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of digital maps and earth images, which until now could not be accessed and used without special skills and software, will suddenly become an integral part of the Information Infrastructure. Such maps and images show, for example: transportation routes, land use and ownership, zoning, watersheds, elevation, population density, average income, aerial photos, cell phone coverages, and pipelines.Mr. Thomas Kalil, Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, White House National Economic Council, an early, enthusiastic supporter of OGC's Web Mapping Testbed effort, said, “Geospatial information is critical for disaster management, crime mapping, environmental monitoring, community decision-making, and a whole host of other public and private sector applications. The development of open standards and specifications will greatly accelerate our ability to access and understand geospatial information from multiple sources.”In coming months, vendors of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), earth imaging systems, spatially enabled database software, and systems for navigation, digital cartography, and facilities management will implement the OpenGIS Web Map Server Interface Specification in software upgrades and new software. Map and imagery suppliers will make their data available over the Web through these vendors' OpenGIS-conformant servers. Then Web users will easily find, view, overlay, and combine different thematic maps for a given region. The new specification will boost the utility and commercial value of location-aware, Internet-connected cell phones, laptops, and car computers. Such devices will, for example, access spatial data on the Internet to provide directions and travel advisories and also information about nearby goods and services.Major software vendors, principal members of OGC and leaders in geoprocessing, expressed their support:- Preetha Pulusani, executive vice president, Intergraph's Mapping/GIS business, stated that, “This directly meshes with our strong belief in open, interoperable sharing of geospatial data. And with the Web as an important catalyst for sharing information, it is an absolute win-win for any user needing to access the geospatial component just as easily as any other information.” – Jack Pellicci, Vice President, Global Service Industries, Oracle Corporation stated that “Oracle recognizes this effort as a significant milestone toward making the delivery of location-enabled e-Business solutions a reality.” – Jack Dangermond, president of ESRI, said, “We are pleased to have worked with OGC and contributed to this effort, which ultimately benefits the users of geographic data.” – Ulrich Neunfinger, president of SICAD Geomatics stated that “Geospatial data are global infrastructure data. Their availability and utilization is an economic success factor. It is essential that geodata are generally available on the web and OGC is a guarantor to achieve this vision.” – John Cavalier, CEO of Mapinfo Corp., said, “At MapInfo we believe in standards. OGC's standard for web mapping amplifies the value of web-resident spatial data by means of the the 'network effect', and this will have profound positive consequences in business, government, and people's daily lives.”The OpenGIS Web Map Server Interfaces Specification was developed in OGC's Web Mapping Testbed, and was submitted by BBN Technologies (US), Cadcorp Ltd. (UK), CubeWerx, Inc. (Canada), IONIC Software s.a. (Belgium), Laser-Scan Limited (UK), SICAD Geomatics GmbH & Co. oHG (Germany), Social Change Online Pty Ltd. (Australia), and the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center. Because an overwhelming majority of the world's geoprocessing software vendors approved this submission, widespread adoption of the new standard is expected.David Schell, president of OGC, praised the members of the consortium on their achievement. “This is truly an historic accomplishment — the combined effort of the web mapping team is sure to benefit people around the world for generations to come. As a result of the Web Mapping Testbed we can look forward to the day when people can expect map overlays on the Web to happen effortlessly, just as they count on hearing a dial tone whenever they pick up a telephone. The Web Mapping Team, both the organizations and individuals involved, are to be congratulated on their accomplishment.”OGC is an international, not-for-profit organization founded in 1994. OGC's 215 industry, government, and academic member organizations participate in a consensus process to integrate geoprocessing into the world's information infrastructures.– end –“