Nearly every small or medium-sized business needs maps--maps to choose the route your salespeople take when they call on clients and maps to service areas for your distributors. And that's why, in theory, Microsoft MapPoint 2002 makes good sense for small businesses. It's packed with demographic data, tightly tied to other Microsoft applications, and easy enough for the cartographically challenged to use. But this business mapmaker and data analyzer isn't cheap; in fact, at $249, it costs more than Office XP's standard edition upgrade. MapPoint is the best business mapping application for workplaces running Office 2000 or Office XP, if you can stomach the price.Nearly every small or medium-sized business needs maps--maps to choose the route your salespeople take when they call on clients and maps to service areas for your distributors. And that's why, in theory, Microsoft MapPoint 2002 makes good sense for small businesses. It's packed with demographic data, tightly tied to other Microsoft applications, and easy enough for the cartographically challenged to use. But this business mapmaker and data analyzer isn't cheap; in fact, at $249, it costs more than Office XP's standard edition upgrade. MapPoint is the best business mapping application for workplaces running Office 2000 or Office XP, if you can stomach the price.
A little taste of Office XP
MapPoint's appearance ties in nicely with the rest of Microsoft's business apps, right down to the background shading that highlights toolbar icons. Once you've selected a map, it fills your monitor for easy viewing, and MapPoint's tools, such as the Find field at the top and drawing objects along the bottom of the screen, make it easy to look up a location, highlight routes, and launch the program's various wizards.
But MapPoint leaves out a few valuable XP features. For example, you can't customize the toolbars--something every other Office XP application allows. Worse, MapPoint skips Office XP's best new feature, its context-sensitive toolset panel, called the Task Pane.
Voracious disk eater
MapPoint creates and opens complex maps fast--three seconds or less on our 900MHz test PC--but it hogs disk space and CPU resources. Even if you access maps straight from MapPoint's data CD instead of your hard drive, you must set aside 410MB for the application alone. MapPoint chewed up so much processing power on our Windows 2000 Professional test machine, other open applications slowed to a crawl or--in rare instances--temporarily locked up.
If you need software only to plot routes and plan trips, you're throwing away money on MapPoint. Sure, it scopes out efficient routes between cities and draws detailed maps, down to the street address level in the United States and Canada, so it's easy to plan business trips and sales routes. But this program's little brother, Streets & Trips, does that too for just $50, and so does free MapQuest, for that matter.
MapPoint's strongest suit is as a graphical planning and analytical tool for small to medium-sized businesses. MapPoint's new Territories feature, for instance, lets you select areas by a variety of data--from zip codes to census tracts--and display them according to corresponding sales regions or service areas. Drive-time zones are another handy addition. They display the approximate distance you can travel within a specified time frame from a central point, say your business locale--very useful for analyzing delivery routes.
This app includes a wealth of demographic data, including 2000 census estimates, so you can build maps that illustrate everything from income to education distribution. (The identically priced European edition includes similar local data.) Of course, you can create maps from your own data, either by drawing one from scratch or by using data from Excel or Access.
Works swell with Office
You'll get the most out of MapPoint using it alongside Microsoft Office 2000 or Office XP. Some Office 97 apps may interact with MapPoint, importing maps and data and, in some cases, exporting data to MapPoint. However, MapPoint works best with the Office 2000/XP editions of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Publisher. If you have the newer editions of the Office apps and have MapPoint installed, MapPoint adds new toolbar icons and menu choices to the other Office applications, weaving in commands that let you, say, plan a route from an address in Word, create a map of addresses from within Outlook, or link Excel spreadsheet data to a map.
MapPoint 2002 also paves a smooth path to the Web. It saves maps and their details as Web pages--perfect for posting directions to your business on your site--and even updates the Web version of your map whenever you change and save the local file.
No MapPoint in Office XP
One MapPoint detail really gets our goat: the disappearance of mapping skills from Office XP. (Office 2000 included an elementary mapping applet, Microsoft Map, but it's not in Office XP.) MapPoint is much more capable than Microsoft Map, and we wonder if the maker removed MapPoint from the suite just to force us to buy something extra. As of now, no edition of Office XP ships with MapPoint, and even Microsoft's $50 rebate for Office XP reduces MapPoint's cost only a little--to about $200.
At that price, you may choose to do without MapPoint. However, if you're running Office 2000 or XP, MapPoint 2002 is worth the upgrade, if only to take advantage of the suitewide integration. Running an older version of Office? Save your money.