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ArcMap to Retire

After 2 decades, ArcMap is set to retire. Sure there are still six more years of support, but ArcGIS 10.8.1 is the final release for good old ArcMap (ArcGIS Desktop). Esri is saying it for realzies this time. Sure, it’s been said for years: I remember when 10.3 was going the last release until it wasn’t. But the recent announcement on ArcGIS Enterprise removing ArcMap publishing support is the nail in the coffin. This is it, and this time they mean it.

Why Retire ArcMap Right Now

Well, you need to wait until a larger percentage of people have moved to ArcGIS Pro before you flip the switch. ArcGIS Pro was officially launched in 2015 by uptake was very slow. If you move too to retire ArcMap, other options (competitors) might bubble to the surface. Add a dash of integration with ArcGIS Online, and the ability to save database connections as favourites in Pro (finally), and you have reached your destination. We all knew it was happening, we just didn’t have dates until this past year.

Don’t Leave Me ArcMap

In most cases, ArcMap just worked. After a long run, thousands of issues have been worked out in the software. But the 32-bit ArcMap with Python 2x was showing its age. We live in a 64-bit world with Python 3x now. Our datasets are larger, integration with the web becoming more dominant, and we’ve run out of new names for ArcGIS Desktop. Still, can’t we go a little longer?

An ArcGIS Desktop by any other name would smell as sweet:

  • ArcGIS
  • ArcGIS Desktop
  • ArcGIS for Desktop
  • Desktop for ArcGIS
  • ArcMap
  • ArcDeskMap-View-Not-Pro

There could be some hiccups if you are migrating from ArcMap to ArcGIS Pro but there is lots of documentation to help get you through it and explain that you need to make some changes along the way. Concurrent licenses can work in Pro, but Esri would prefer the user subscription approach which is pretty handy if you use AGOL too; If you use terminal servers to access ArcMap, be prepared to crush your servers with Pro unless you start adding some serious GPU power; Let’s not forget to re-training users too, this will be a mixed bag of emotions unless you hire fresh graduates who never used ArcMap (or ArcInfo Workstation, or Idrisi32, or ArcView 3). I’m officially old.

Oh wait, they can’t get rid of ArcMap since I need to publish directly to ArcGIS Server. Well, that feature is finally included in ArcGIS Pro so this is no longer an admin/publishing issue thankfully. It was possible starting at Pro 2.3 (with ArcPy/tools), and now with GUI integration introduced in Pro 2.4. Now that it’s finally in the GUI, Esri will retire the ability to publish from ArcMap to Server in future ArcGIS Server releases. Seems a little harsh but your Admins wouldn’t migrate otherwise (and you know it).

Many of the other limitations to ArcGIS Pro have been resolved through software updates over the years. Remember when ArcGIS Pro couldn’t store Database connections outside a Project? Thankfully those days are over. And Pro has some real benefits since 64-bit - it can use a crap ton of RAM and native 64-bit processing tools with Python 3x support (yes, like all other GIS software). ArcMap couldn’t leverage extra RAM even if installed after long justifications with the IT department to have a powerful workstation. Let’s not forget one of Pro’s best features: you can auto-update the software (not to be underestimated and simplifies administration).

Esri Recommended Upgrade Path

Pro Du Jour

Regardless of your thoughts on ArcGIS Pro, it is powerful and is the current Arc Du jour. Moving from ArcMap has a learning curve, but it’s surprising how quickly you get used to the Pro approach. “apPROach”?! Sorry. I still use both but I gravitate to ArcGIS Pro for my mapping these days. What will I miss the most? ArcCatalog. I just liked having that administrative tool that was separate from the mapping/analysis tools. Akin to Microsoft’s SSMS, or TOAD for MS/Oracle DB management. The dockable window just isn’t the same IMHO. I’ll get over it one day. Maybe a TOAD extension?

With today’s computers all being 64-bit, we were leaving processing power untapped with ArcMap (well, there are a bunch of 64-bit background GP tools but you know what I mean). Python 2x was also sunset in January 2020 and is no longer support or receiving bug fixes from the Python Software Foundation. Yeah, this is legacy software now. But still usable. I’m not crying ArcCatalog, you are.

In short, you have lots of time to use ArcMap still. However, if you keep your ArcGIS Server up-to-date, you are going to need to hold back at some point or you will no longer be able to publish from ArcMap/Catalog. This also gives you some time to figure out what you are going to do with your ArcMap Python Add-Ins, since… yup, those don’t exist in Pro. To the SDK we go!

Well, time to go manually patch ArcMap now as I’m not ready to move on just yet.

Helpful Links

Cover image: Austin Chan on Unsplash June 07, 2021.


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