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This document is a summary of the current status of the new ArcGIS Pro desktop application, slated for initial release by Esri in late 2014.

What is ArcGIS Pro?

ArcGIS Pro (AGP) is a native 64-bit, multithreaded Windows WPF desktop application that Esri released in January 2015.

The name "ArcGIS Pro" makes more sense if you consider that the AGP is an "app" that is designed to appeal to users of ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Explorer users that need more functionality and want to "go pro." 

Are ArcMap and ArcCatalog going away?

No. In fact, Esri is not planning to port everything right away (and will not convert all functionality) to AGP. The "10x" applications (ArcMap, ArcCatalog, ArcScene, ArcGlobe") will be installed and run on the same machine as AGP, and will be used for a good long time to access functionality that is not available yet (or will never be available) in AGP. Desktop 10x can be used as an authoring environment for functionality that you can run, but not create, in AGP.

Desktop 10x styles (symbols, north arrows, etc) do not work with AGP, but they are based on the same technologies (TrueType), and the Desktop 10x styles can be converted to work with AGP.

Installation notes

ArcGIS Pro can be installed alongside any version of Esri software with no conflicts. It also updates itself - to apply an update you just install the new versions, older versions are automatically removed.

ArcGIS Pro can be installed as a single-user app (no admin access required to install or update). However installation of Esri's Python stack (for script development) or .NET development environment requires admin privileges. A workaround that allows you to set up Python without admin access is to set up a compatible Python environment using Anaconda.

What is new?

Snappy and more modern user interface

The AGP UI and internal workings are all developed in 64-bit and take full advantage of both the memory and multi-threaded capability of modern Windows desktops and the Windows WPF development framework. This means the user experience will be much more "snappy" -- dialogs are built behind the scenes before you ask for them. The UI approach is much more active, heavy use is made of buttons and panes (think Office 2010/2013) over "right-clicking", dialogs and wizards.  It's quite different and takes some getting used to for experienced Desktop 10x users.

Projects and maps

The AGP application is a single document interface application that works with in a "project". Projects are physically stored as a zipped up workspace of files that can included application settings, data and pointers to data, maps (sort of like the 10x data frame), and layouts (of which you can have more than one). The project can also include tools, tasks (discussed below under "developer story") and pointers to services. If you have been around for a while and this is sounding a little like ArcView 3x, you're right; the developers have even named the project file with the extension .aprx -- no I'm not kidding.

Many of the settings we now store in the user profile or in the mxd are being stored instead in the project. An example are folder and data connections, default application and geoprocessing settings, etc.  The setup in AGP very much encourages you to always start from an existing project - not from scratch.

Data files and document formats

  • ArcGIS Pro cannot read or write coverages, INFO tables, or personal (.mdb) geodatabases. All other data types are fully interoperable with ArcGIS Desktop.
  • ArcGIS 10x map documents, layer files, and stylesets can be imported into ArcGIS but are not backward-compatible -- the conversion is a one-way trip from ArcMap to Pro.
  • Toolboxes and geoprocessing models are somewhat interoperable with Pro. For example, in AGP you can create a tbx file, add models to it, and save it to 10x or 9x format.

New graphics engine and pipeline

ArcGIS Desktop 8x/9x/10x uses a Windows Metatafile Format (WMF) based graphics engine which is showing its age, and has big shortcomings with handling of text, overlapping graphics, color, and transparency. AGP uses the high-performance, high-quality graphics engine that has been used by ArcGIS Server for several years. AGP brings this powerful display technology to the desktop. The graphics will normally look a lot better. (It also can take full advantage of x64 and multi-threading, so we should see much-improved drawing performance as well.)

Graphics file export will be higher quality (because of the new graphic engine). A wide range of raster and vector formats will be supported. When I participated in holistic testing in late September 2013, much of this part of the application was not implemented yet.

AGP will not support export to Adobe Illustrator format.  The main reason Esri has decided to not do this in AGP is that Adobe has not publicly released a specification for the .ai format in more than a decade, so the files ArcGIS exports are harder and harder for Illustrator to read. Illustrators know this and have devloped many workarounds that have been tweaked continuously as the Illustrator software has changed over the years. Esri recognizes that there are some prepress things we do that require tweaking of AGP output to meet prepress specifications. Their approach is to use the publicy-documented and now industry-standard PDF format instead. On the plus side, AGP will support much better integrated export of rasters, color, and transparency in PDF output.  USGS can have a positive influence on this by participating in the beta.

Integrated 2D and 3D

Another important feature of the AGP UI is that it will provide access to multiple maps in both 2D and 3D presentations. Esri is looking to integrate everything into one application and make it much more common for users to work 2D and 3D at once. It's hard to see how this makes a lot of sense for our natural resources applications in which we look at data over large areas, but we shall see. It may help us for example, use lidar data to improve our 2D spatial data, for example, placing a gage on the landscape may be easier if we can see the 3D context of the site.

Developer story

Python and geoprocessing

If you've been developing geoprocessing tools with ModelBuilder and Python, there's very good news: these tools will be able to used unmodified in AGP. This is already working, I loaded some of my tools and  the parameter validation worked great. This goes for toolboxes developed in Desktop 9x and 10x. ArcGIS Pro beta is using Python 3.4, so you will have to make sure your ArcGIS scripts written using Python 2.6/2.7 are written to run in Python 3.x. Note, you can't go backward - toolboxes and models created or modified with Pro will not work from ArcMap (unless published as geoprocessing services and accessed through AGOL). (Esri has included some save to previous version functionality so there are workflows available.)

There's a stripped down version of Python that is shipped inside AGP. If you want to develop your own python scripts, you need to install Python 3.4 from the AGP Python standalone distribution. The Python distribution includes a generous scientific module stack including modules like pandas, netcdf4, and scipy. (ArcGIS Desktop 10.4 includes this same expanded Python stack.)

The licensing for Python has to be set up to run scripts outside of ArcGIS Pro. See the help for details.

Task Assistant

AGP adds a new capability called Task Assistant, which comes from the current 10x Workflow Manager. The Task Assistant is ideal to walk a user through a common, standardized workflow. This could be used to build a map of sampling sites for a USGS report, or doing elevation data processing to create flow paths and watersheds for hydrologic analysis.


The AGP application is not accessible to the ArcObjects COM-based programming model. If the Pro UI must be customized this will be possible using AddIns developed using a new application-level .NET API similar to what's used now to develop ArcMap AddIns - but of course with new components corresponding to the new application's components.  AGP will *not* support Python AddIns.

Esri is providing a new .NET API for developers. This new .NET API is more coarse grained than ArcObjects, leaving man low-level functions unavailable to Pro .NET developers. If your application needs access to some of these objects, you can still develop tools using ArcObjects, but this won't be part of the new AGP stack, it would run through ArcMap.

Where can I get the software?

USGS EGIS has posted guidance and an install package.

EGIS is including Pro 1.2 in the Desktop 10.4 install package.  

More information

Esri product pages:

Esri Video: ArcGIS Pro (Jan 2015)

Esri GeoNet community: ArcGIS Pro

GIS Stack Exchange post: What are Esri's new “ArcGIS for Professionals” and “ArcGIS Professional”?  

ArcGIS Pro page on AGOL (use your USGS AGOL login)

USGS participated in Esri's "Holistic testing" of beta versions of ArcGIS Pro in 2013 and 2014. Notes by Curtis Price and Donna Knifong.

Donna Knifong shared her Pro testing experience this recorded webinar (starts at 37:00) especially with respect to illustrations.


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