I intended to blog once or twice during the ESRI International User Conference, but found my conference schedule and meetings all-consuming. This was our seventh time exhibiting at the conference, and I think it was the best one yet. ArcGIS Server 9.3 is what we hoped it would be, the new/emerging developer APIs are valuable, and I generally think ESRI is on the right track. I’m excited about the coming year.

Since it was first released, I’ve been very candid about my perspective on ArcGIS Server 9.2 (that it was the future but not quite ready for prime-time). This has caused consternation among some, but I always defended my position because our customers count on us for advice about technology and timing.

I’ve always contended that, regardless of new capabilities, the majority of ESRI customers will be reluctant to move from ArcIMS to ArcGIS Server until the shift doesn’t involve any significant steps backward from ArcIMS. There have been two main aspects to this; comparable performance and comparable functionality.

I think I can now see the tipping point. Aside from the general improvements in 9.3, during the plenary on Monday afternoon, ESRI announced that the new rendering engine for ArcGIS Server (which everyone was expecting as part of 9.4) would ship as part of ArcGIS Server 9.3 Service Pack 2 in January or February 2009. Even though you can actually do lots to improve performance (Mapservice/application tweaking and pre-rendering), this is big news for organizations that have been awaiting improved performance that doesn’t require much rearranging of the furniture.

As for the latter aspect (functional parity), the complementary use of Web ADF and the new developer API’s allow/will allow functionality, ease-of-development, and ease-of-use to be taken to the next level. We’ve been working hard over the last twenty months to be prepared with comparable and/or superior functionality (relative to ArcIMS-gen technology) in time for ESRI’s release of comparable performance. And we’re nearly there.

Bottom line… things are falling into place. Last year, we talked mostly with people who wanted to learn more about ArcGIS Server. This year, we talked mostly with people serious about getting going with ArcGIS Server. I predict 2009 will be remembered as being a significant year in the widespread transition from ArcIMS to ArcGIS Server.