What's new in Visual Crossing 4?

Overview

Visual Crossing 4 was built from the ground up to provide our customers with the fastest performing architecture available while maintaining our commitment to business analytics and creating an interface that is accessible to all users.    This document will contain a list of the changes that you will see when upgrading to the 4 platform.

Architectural Changes

HTML5 Architecture

In Visual Crossing 2.x-3.x our client side technology was built on a Flash™ architecture.  Flash™ had a flexible plugin capacity to any browser and a fast rendering capability for complex graphics such as mapping, labels and animations.   With the changing landscape of browser and mobile device support, HTML5 has emerged as a high performing, lightweight rendering engine with adoption by all major browsers across all devices.   The Visual Crossing 4 client has been architected to fully utilize all graphical capabilities of this new technology.   

Key advantages of HTML 5

Lightweight – HTML5’s primary rendering engine is a Canvas-based model rather than a DOM model such as Flash™.  Therefore, the application has complete control over how much of the graphical information resides in memory for the graphical task it is executing.  This gives Visual Crossing complete control to create a lightweight client that still has all of the capabilities that our customers expect from us.   The advantages for customers to a lighter weight client are better performance, more scalable maps with more points and polygons and the ability to have the same client code capabilities on smaller mobile devices just as the web client does.    This new architecture has unified our Web, Mobile and Server rendering engines giving our customers the ability to have the exact same maps and capabilities on all platforms.

 

Fast Rendering – Combined with the lighter nature of the client, HTML5 rendering has proven to be faster to render points and polygons. This makes larger maps and rendering on mobile devices possible. 

 

JavaScript integration – In Visual Crossing 3.x the Flash™ architecture was a closed, plugin-style implementation.  With the HTML5 architecture, Visual Crossing is able to expose its JavaScript SDK for customers who wish to customize or build their own map applications using the Visual Crossing 4 API.  

 

Web Browser Maps on Mobile – Customers can choose to show maps through standard reports and dashboards but no longer require that the browser has Flash™ support.   This opens the capability to run reports and dashboards on Mobile and not require a specific mobile application.

 

Considerations for adopting this new architecture:

 

Browser Support – Firefox, Chrome, Safari and IE (versions 10.x and greater) will all sufficiently support the HTML5 standard to run the Visual Crossing 4 client. 

 

MicroStrategy Objects - Customers who have created reports and dashboards that are primarily saved and run in Flash™ mode will need remove their current Flash™ widgets and re-save their objects to run in AJAX mode using only controls designed for the HTML5 platform.  Please refer to your MicroStrategy documentation for the proper methods for converting these objects.

Vector Tiling Infrastructure

 New to the Visual Crossing 4 platform is an ultra-scalable and fast geographic data delivery system known as Vector Tiling.   Visual Crossing has always returned true vector data to the client rather than pre-rendered bitmap images.   However in Visual Crossing 4, that data is now cached in vector tiles similar to how Google caches tiled images of maps.  

 

The advantages to this system are as follows:

 

Speed of delivery - Vector tiles are designed using generic caches that are not specific to any client request, they can be cached in multiple locations for users to share quickly.   Also, since the tiles are specific to requested scale they only contain the data necessary for an accurate rendering at that level, making the data lighter than ever before.

Speed of rendering – The tiles are rendered at many different zoom levels providing the rendering engine the smallest amount of data and that data is already pre-processed for a given zoom level so that the client side renderer doesn’t need to work as hard.

Lightweight – In Visual Crossing version 3 all of the vector data cached on the clients were full vector detail, which created large caches that forced many browsers to fill up with offline data too quickly.   The vector tiles are a fraction of the full-detail vector size which provide a more scalable system for Web and Mobile platforms.

Off-line capable – Vector Tile caches are completely generic with a single installation and often times across multiple installations depending on the type of data.  These tiles are easily managed by a simple file system allowing administrators to manage this data set and even create a set of data that can be managed offline.

Server-less and Embedded Server Options – One additional option some of our customers are exploring is the ability to have a full, fixed set of tiles with no map server required at all.   This greatly simplifies architectures and maintenance in these scenarios.  It will have limitations on how tiles get updated so we ask customers to analyze their scenario with us and we can recommend the best possible map solution.

 

Considerations for adopting Vector Tiles:

By default in Visual Crossing 4, all operations for polygon delivery will use the vector tile infrastructure with no changes to customer maps.   The administrator will need to provide a location for the Vector Tile Cache in the Administrator Tools.  Core to the design is to provide a system that doesn’t require maintenance by the customer.   The tiles are generated and put into the cache as the end users request maps.   Customers may see an initial slowness the first time a full tile request is made but after one area has been requested by any client, all clients will get a fast cache request where they can see the performance benefits of the system.

Administrators wishing to improve the first experience by end users can pre-generate tiles by simply running a map and panning to areas most frequented by end users. 

In future versions of our tools, the administrators will have the option to pre-create full caches by using scripts or administrative tools.

Web Client, Server and Mobile Code Base Synchronized

Due to the HTML5 code base and the Visual Crossing 4 architecture customers will get identical experiences across web, mobile and server generated maps.   This will require less training for customers and less testing will be required overall.

 

External Data Capacity

New to Visual Crossing 4 is the ability to pull in full layers through our server via our Data Provider technology which gives the Visual Crossing 4 system the capability to pull data from virtually any source.   This capacity can be used for Big Data scenarios to connect directly to other systems or to read from flat files or RDBMS connections.  Customers wishing to use this new capability should contact our professional services organization for instruction or project initiation.

MicroStrategy Integration - Visualization vs Report State

New to MicroStrategy 10 is the ability to attach any visualization to a report using their widget infrastructure.   Reports are developed in a similar fashion to the MicroStrategy dashboards.  To comply with this new architecture, Visual Crossing has adapted its custom MicroStrategy widget to be utilized by reports.   There are pros and cons to this approach and we ask that customers reach out to MicroStrategy to discuss this new architecture with them for advice on best practices.

Considerations for adopting report and dashboard visualizations:

Map Icons – Reports will no longer be shown in the folder browse pages with the ‘globe’ icon indicating the default report state as a map.   This is due to the fact that all visualizations that appear in reports are of equal status and in future release may contain multiple visualizations.  It wouldn’t be accurate to modify the icon state for one visualization.

Saving – All map definitions will now be saved with the MicroStrategy report properties in the MicroStrategy Metadata.  This will give some customers benefits in that they will no longer need to manage two repositories that synchronize maps to reports.   Currently, saving requires two steps similar to maps in dashboards.  Save the Visual Crossing map to write the map definition to the properties and then the MicroStrategy save step to write the entire report definition (with the map property) to the MicroStrategy MD.

Auto-resize – In Visual Crossing 3, the map customization was in charge of the report state and could resize the map to fit the full screen of the report.  In the new MicroStrategy Visualization infrastructure, each visualization must be sized by the designer.    This limitation is something that MicroStrategy is aware of and they are looking at providing resize options in their next releases.

User Interface

One of the largest changes with Visual Crossing 4 architecture is a completely new user interface.   The goals for the new user interface were the following:

 

Multi-Platform - The Visual Crossing 4 UI is identical on web and mobile to make usage for all users simpler.  This required creating an interface that is functional on mobile touch screens and desktop web browsers.  

Better Organization of Features – The Visual Crossing 3 functionality was fully functional but often customers utilizing many of our features were required to have a new button for every action they produced.  In Visual Crossing 4 many of the features have either been organized into the main toolbar on the left or have been consolidated and grouped with other features.

Increased Adoption of Advanced Analysis – In Visual Crossing 4 we wanted to give end users easy access to all of the great features in the Visual Crossing platform.  For instance, in Visual Crossing 4 the Location Information feature is a single button the toolbar that any user can select and use without answering configuration questions or additional setup.

One-touch formatting – In Visual Crossing 4 we have added format options to turn point and polygon layers into other visualizations just be clicking a single style.   If you want to view points as a contour layer, simply select that as a new visualization style for the layer.   Clusters, grids, contours, voronoi diagrams and much more are all available for users to utilize.

Updated Styling – Finally we wanted to give our interface and updated and clean styling that was appropriate for web and mobile applications today.

Considerations for adopting the new user interface:

Adoption of the new interface for end users should be a fairly simple one but here are some things that our customers should take into consideration.

 

Editing – Most of the editing functions should take place within the layer available from the Layer Picker’s toggle button.  Only data level edits or new layers will require the advanced editing capabilities available in from the “gear” icon at the top of the left menu.

Filtering buttons – Customers who utilized custom filters and multi-level filters will now find that all filters are managed under the filter icon of the main toolbar. 

Page-by – Customers who utilized custom page-by options and placed them on the map at various locations will no longer need to do this and all of the page-by selections can be done from the new interactive legend found at the bottom right of the screen.

 

SDK

Visual Crossing 4 now has an exposed JavaScript API for customizations both within BI systems as well as for standalone map usage.   The map can read from the Visual Crossing metadata or have data pushed to the map control via JSON data stream.  

Visual Crossing 4 has image export functionality that can produce maps that are identical maps to those that you see on the client.   Using the integrated code base and server API, exports to PDF and automated bulk print/export actions can be implemented entirely on the server.   Please contact our consulting organization for usage of these functions.

Metadata Changes

 Visual Crossing 4 has moved the MD location from an RDBMS base to a file based MD system.  This will eliminate the requirement for additional MD connections and management.   Customers will be required to recreate their map definitions or utilize a tool to transform the map definitions into a Visual Crossing 4 readable form. 

Visual Crossing Architect Tools

The Architect Tools have been deprecated for Visual Crossing 4.   The tools are no longer required because of the additional new functionality provided by the map UI.    Also, the new copy-to-deploy geometry architecture only requires that users simply copy in their vector based shapefiles to the file system MD.   Region Creation, User Mangement and Geometry Matching/Geocoding will be available through the web and mobile interfaces.  

 

Feature Changes and Additions

 

New Selections – Visual Crossing 4 has a powerful new selection capability which includes additional capability to aggregate multiple distinct selections on various parts of the map.  Also, all of the map selections can be moved around the map by sliding the selection shape to do quick comparisons of fixed areas such as a radius.    Finally the ability to snap to a point and edit the selection shape live on-screen were added in Visual Crossing 4 to give users even greater control over the selections they are making.

 

New Animations – Our new animations component consolidates both the version 3 step animation as well as the more advanced timeline animation.   With this consolidated approach, users will now have easier access to controlling the timeline of the animations produced.  If users have an advertising file that is daily and a BI report that is Monthly, our animations can sync up these two disparate layers and animate them together.  Animations are available for all time and non-time based categories.   The animation tool is available on all reports from the main toolbar.

 

New Location Information Component – Our most popular analysis tool has additional capabilities in Visual Crossing 4.  They include the following:

  • Area Polygon – All location analysis in addition to the traditional spider representation will show a thematically colored polygon area representing x% (80% by default) of a metric’s value. This polygon is cleaner to view data and opens up options to show overlap analysis as well as comparisons such as actual to expected performance when comparing to a Voronoi representation.
  • Multi-site Analysis – Location Information can now show multiple locations at the same time to allow the user to compare the performance of sites on the same map.
  • Spider Summary representation - Instead of showing a full spider diagram linking all points to the source point, Visual Crossing 4 will now aggregate areas and show a summary of spider lines for a cleaner spider that can scale to much larger sets of locations without cluttering the screen.

              

Big Data Analysis – The Visual Crossing 4 platform was designed to handle big data scenarios.  Both for connecting to big data systems but also for handling large volumes of data by allowing the server to collaboratively work with the client by pre-aggregating and processing data for the client.   This has not yet been exposed through our UI but if a customer would like to build an engagement to utilize this functionality please reach out to our services team.   If you would like to show 100M transactions on a map, this feature is for you.

 

 

Interactive Legend with Page-by Selectors - Visual Crossing 4 has a new interactive legend at the bottom right of the screen.  It is shown by clicking on the legend icon.   To save screen space on mobile devices the default is to hide the legend until the user opens it.  This new legend has several new features to support metrics and formats in a more attractive and informative display.   The legend also has been enhanced to include a metric page-by operation.  By simply clicking on the metric header for any layer the user can choose the metric format they wish to display for the layer.  For customers who have placed specialized page-by components in version 3 on their map display, these will no longer be available and customers should start using the interactive legend’s page-by functionality.

 

Heatmaps/Hotspots/Clusters/Voronoi - Visual Crossing 4 offers a whole group of visualizations that can be applied to layer to enhance the consumption of data.   Our Heatmaps offer new grid size options and additional analysis settings for the user to control the visualization based on dataset density.   Hotspots were added for customers who do not want the smoothing effect of Heatmaps but prefer to view actual data performance by actual grid and grid with influence.   Clusters are new to Visual Crossing 4 and allow customers to view grouping summaries of point metric values.  In addition to these visualizations we also offer a Voronoi option for point layers to show how a collection of locations would divide up an area based on distance or weighted by a given metric.

Filtering – Visual Crossing 4 makes filtering more available to end users.  Instead of adding components on a map by map basis, users can simply click on the filter tab and start filtering their map data.  This unified interface replaces custom buttons that are added to the user interface in version 3.   Customers using the version 3 filters will find their filters in the main toolbar under the filter tab but all custom placed buttons will no longer be drawn on the map directly.

 

 

Layer Picker – The Visual Crossing 4 Layer Picker is the primary interface for all user actions in Visual Crossing 4. 

 

  • Zoom to Layer – This function will automatically put the entire layer into map view and reset the scale and bounds of the map.
  • Opacity – This gives the user to control the opacity of the entire layer in an easy to use location.
  • Formatting – By choosing the ‘edit layer’ selection a user can edit all of the formatting features for this layer by simply clicking on the visualization and color themes they prefer.
  • Move Layers – End users can now control which layers reside highest and lowest on the layer list. In version 3 this was reserved for designers only.
  • Copy Layer – End users can duplicate layers and produced multiple formatted versions of each layer. This allows them to show multiple metrics with different formats or simply use a layer as a sandbox for analysis without disturbing the default version of the layer that appears with the map.
  • Advanced Editing – In Visual Crossing 4 this is done a layer by layer basis and each layer has its own option for editing details of the layer itself.

 

Search – Visual Crossing 4 has an integrated support bar similar to those you would find in on search engines.  Simply type the text you would like to find and the tool will search across all map layers for complete and partial matches.   Selecting a result will zoom the user to the location they wish to find.

 

Color Themes – Visual Crossing 4 has been enhanced with a color theme picker so users no longer are required to define each color in a sequence.  This picker also has a reverse option so that customers who prefer low values to be highlighted can simply reverse the standard templates with the click of a button.

Size by Metric Slider – Assigning small-to-large formats for points has just become easier in Visual Crossing 4.  In the point format editor the user can choose a range of point sizes in the slider control and the system will automatically assign these values to the metric sequence.

 

Labels – The label editor was redesigned and has equivalent features found in version 3 which used the Flash™ text editor.  The new design is simpler to modify text and the macro objects are highlighted as true objects for replacement.  The new implementation was designed for end users so that they can create the maps without administrative help.  Many of the most common properties from the version 3 property list were given a more prominent location for usage by these end users.   NOTE:  This is an area we recommend that our users focus their testing when upgrading.  The proprietary system of version 3 could not be recreated and upgraded one-for-one in all cases and users may see issues with newlines and breaks not showing up as expected and fonts in Visual Crossing 4 are more accurate screen representations than version 3.  If you need assistance with any font changes please contact support.

 

 

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