Help on choosing the right Windows software and GPS receiver to map water utility
I have recently been assigned to map the location of several hundred meters for a water utility. I do have a new Laptop running Windows 7. I haven't purchased a GPS receiver or software yet because I am simply overwhelmed with the number of choices.

I am in south central Oklahoma USA, a rural area. I doubt if street and road maps are going to be much help cause will be "offroad" on oilfield lease roads and basicly across country in some instances. I need to be able to map each location as well as routes. I am more going to be mapping points with GPS rather than trying to find my way around.

Any help will be greatly appreciated.
Ken in Regina
Let's see if I understand what you actually want to do...

1. You want to drive/walk/crawl to each of the meter locations.

2. When you are physically standing beside the meter, you want to use your GPS to log the location of the meter.

3. When you log the location of the meter, you want to be able to add some sort of text name and/or description to that entry.

4. When you get back to the office you want to be able to have all these locations displayed on a map so it's easy to see where they are.

5. When they are displayed on the map, it would be nice if you could see the small roads and trails that lead to, or near, the meter locations.

Is that about right? Do you also want to be able to give directions to other people?

If you want to use your laptop rather than a handheld GPS (like the Garmin eTrex or similar), you need to be sure that you pick a nav program that you can get maps that are perfectly suited to what you need. Or you need to be sure you can get the logged locations (aka waypoints) out of the nav program so you can display them in something else.

One option is to buy a Garmin handheld (they have many handheld models that would be very suitable for your application) and a set of Garmin's topo maps for your area. The maps will come with a program called Mapsource. You install the Mapsource program and the topo maps on your laptop. It does not turn your laptop into a navigation system. It allows you to use the handheld to log and label all the locations, then upload the locations to the Mapsource program and display them all on the topo maps.

In addition, there is a menu selection in Mapsource that lets you view the uploaded locations in Google Earth. That lets you view the meter locations on Google's aerial and satellite images.

If you want to use the laptop as the navigation device to log all the locations, Garmin Mobile PC and Microsoft Streets & Trips will both allow you to export the logged locations so you can view them in Google Earth.

If you get the right version of Mobile PC you can add Garmin's topo maps for your region. Mobile PC only allows a 24-character name to be added to a logged location ("Favorite").

Streets&Trips only has road maps, although it does have some offroad roads in some areas of the country. Streets&Trips allows much longer names to be added to logged locations.

If you want the flexibility to make your own maps from various sources of map data, there are other programs out there, like OziExplorer and others, that let you scan paper maps or do screen captures of online maps and then calibrate them for use on your laptop. If you don't already know how to do this sort of stuff and are not pretty literate with mapping and GPS technology, the learning curve for this option is rather intimidating.

1: Exactly! .. although when actually doing it, humor is lost when crawling...but sometimes required...
2: again exactly on spot! the more accurate the better!! they are often hard to find even when standing on them... (snow, tall grass, under bushes, ect.)
3: Absolutely the more information I can put in the better for example ... biting dog, mean woman, DO NOT CLIMB OVER THE FENCE!, under the patio table, ect, (these are actual examples of what i need to note at each location.
4: yes precisely!
5:really really nice to be ablle to show them to the next guy that comes along, since life expectancy of a meter reader around here can be quite short...
I need to be able for someone without knowledge of where they are to be able to go find them , yes.
I'm not anchored to the laptop, but it will be in the truck most of the time.... if a handheld with an interface with it is more to what i'm needing that will be fine too.... just trying to get it done as cheap as possible, you know the song.. times are are all over...
Accuracy is the more important factor, mapping and displaying the locations is a very close number 2, neither I nor my bosses care how I do it... but I want the easiest and fastest way I can get it done.
Marvin Hlavac
Hi howdaydodat,

Welcome to Laptop GPS World.

Microsoft Streets and Trips has annotation tools that will let you make as many notes on the map as desired. You can draw on the map, too. you can place a pushpin on the map, you can enter text in the pushpin balloon, a pushpin can contain even a hyperlink to a document on your computer. Really cool feature.

Is approximately 15 feet accuracy sufficient for what you plan to do? That's what you can expect from a consumer solution like this.
Man you guys are on the ball! KUDOS to Marvin and Ken for great advice and super fast responses!!!!
I would definatly prefer 15 inches to 15 feet, as I said the more accurate the better, Water meters out here are like finding a needle in a haystack the size of the empire state building, but I'm sure you get what you pay for..
I'm sure if I can pull this task of mapping the meters out there will be more "quests" to fulfill, like adding the valve locations, mapping waterlines that go across country, ect. We are a small utility, and don't have the tens of thousands of dollars that "PROS" want to do "utility mapping" but we really need it. I'm the only human on earth that can find all the meters and valves ect... and if I were to be out of work for the h1n1 or in a car wreck things around here would get nasty... SO.... we really need some way to do this project but not tie up a bunch of money and time doing it...
In answer to your question... 15 feet would work, If I could put in enough information associated with that point to further describe its exact location. (for example 15 feet west of driveway 20 feet north of road, or 12 feet east of power pole.) but I would also need to be able to associate a name, acct number, address, and notes about that location or meter. lots of information to connect to a single point on a map.
hope this helps clarify what I am needing. I looked at the Ozieplorer site, seems nice but says in Bold print it cannot upload maps to any GPS receiver..... which may still work for me... as long as I can get accurate maps of everything, with enough infomation on each meter.
Thanks again for all your time and concideration!!!
Its one of them ... what would you do if you were me kinda questions, not always easy to answer, and I appreciate your efforts!
Marvin Hlavac
I'd try Streets & Tips, perhaps because I'm familliar with it and comfortable with it. There is literally no limit as to how much information you can associate with each point. Check out this thread:

What receiver would you recommend?
Hand held type or one to attach to the laptop?
seems there are millions of handheld ones out there, if you don't mind could you suggest which one may work best for my situation paired with the Streets & trips software?
you guys seem to be the only source for good straight forward, no sales hype advice! I do appreciate it!! You are much more knowledgeable than any store clerk! and I need your kind of help!! thanks again!
Oh, and one more question, if I go with the hand held version receiver, and I just cable it to the laptop and use it like a dongle?
Marvin Hlavac
You could just buy the Streets and Trips with GPS Locator package, or buy just the S&T software and get any modern USB (or Bluetooth) GPS receiver. USB BU-353 GPS receiver is popular, but there are others equally as good.
Ken in Regina
I concur with Marvin about Streets&Trips being the one that will get you the best annotation features. It has a learning curve to do all the stuff you ultimately want to do, but once you have a location logged, you can do a lot of the grunt work back in the truck or the office.

Here's what I would suggest.

Don't get a standard GPS receiver like Marvin suggests. Instead, get a handheld that can also be used as a receiver for the laptop. Here's why ...

- If you can drive to the site it's nice to use the laptop to track and log the location.
- If you can drive and walk to the site, you might still want to use the laptop or might not, but ...
- If you need to walk and crawl and climb you might not want to have to lug the laptop.

With a handheld it's light, small and easy to carry. You can stick a small notepad and pencil in another pocket to make notes. With the handheld and the notepad you are armed and ready for anything as you fight your way through the bush.

With a handheld like some of Garmin's, you have the option when creating a waypoint to "average" it. That is, when you select to create the waypoint at the GPS location, you can just set the GPS on top of the meter or whatever and let it take readings for awhile until it gets the best fix it possibly can in the circumstances, then save the waypoint.

I use a Garmin eTrex Legend HCx. It has the latest consumer GPS technology and is as accurate as any consumer-grade device out there. With averaging you can get a pretty decent location fix. Its drawback is that you can only enter 14 characters in the name. I'm sure that if you are like most utilities, each meter has some sort of unique identifier that you could get your 14 characters from, just to get it stored in the handheld on those occasions when packing the laptop is not desirable. Then you can add all the other stuff from your paper notepad in Streets&Trips later.

If you are interested in going the handheld route you will want something that is designed for outdoor use, allows connection to a computer to use as a GPS receiver, has as many characters of information as you can get for the waypoint name, has averaging when recording waypoints, is reasonably easy to use and is affordable. Garmin has a number of different handheld lines to choose from .. eTrex, GPSMAP, Oregon, Colorado and Dakota. Each of these handheld lines have two or more models to choose from. If you're interested, we can talk more.

Yes, to use this handheld + laptop option to use Streets&Trips directly for navigation, when it's desirable to do so, you just cable the handheld to the laptop with a USB cable exactly like you would a USB GPS receiver.

In the interest of full disclosure, to use a handheld as a GPS receiver for your laptop, you will probably need to use an intermediary piece of software like GPSGate. It's cheap ... under twenty bucks when I bought it. My Garmin software knows how to use a USB-connected Garmin receiver directly, without the usual USB-to-COM port driver. But Streets&Trips does not. So it needs a piece of software that can find the handheld and convert the USB data stream to a virtual COM port.

Also in the interest of full disclosure, I'm most familiar with Garmin hardware and software. So that's what is easiest for me to make recommendations about if you decide you are interested in pursuing the handheld + laptop option.

Streets&Trips 2010 adds the new ability to import GPX files. It's really easy to get GPX files from the Garmin stuff into Streets&Trips.

By the way, you can download a 60-day free trial of Streets&Trips to play with any time you wish to check it out. Also, if it ever becomes desirable to be able to exchange data with a company database in the future you can upgrade to Mappoint. It does everything Streets&Trips does plus it exports to Excel and Access and Powerpoint.

Great advice, I am deffinately liking the idea of a handheld , then migrating the info to a pc. seems that is the more practical option. now .....
knowing I'm going that route, I've been looking at the handheld receivers... anywhere from 150 to over 500 bucks... you mentioned 5 different "lines" of handhelds...
suggestions on which may be the better for what i need... not really interested in most of the hype or options to find toilets, snack shacks, and hysterical markers...
just good accurate locating......... but ... on the same note i'm sure they will all have options I dont' really need... Basically I just don['t want to buy a 500 dollar one if I can do what i need with a 200 or 300 dollar one... I'm sure you understand.
thanks again on all the great help!
I have to go to a meeting for a while.. will check back around lunch.
not to sound like a groupie... but you guys rock!
Ken in Cape Breton
I'd like to point out a feature of Garmin Mobile PC that hasn't been mentioned in this discussion.

Garmin Mobile PC can use Microsoft Outlook (ver. 2003 or newer) to store "Favorites" (waypoints) as normal Outlook contacts. This permits you to add as much information as you wish, name address phone numbers, lengthy notes. These just become normal Outlook contacts (each with an added data field under a tab called "Garmin Mobile" with a location map) that can be sorted, saved, backed up, transferred, etc. like any other outlook information. I use this as a tool at work and find it useful.

If you already use Microsoft Outlook at work a sensible solution would be Garmin Mobile PC with a GPS 20x receiver and with added local topographic maps in the truck and a Garmin GPS 72H as a handheld. The black & white GPS 72H will work fine for this ($130.00), it's rugged, waterproof and floats. Make sure it is the very new "H" version with the USB port and upgraded receiver - Go for the GPS Map76c if you want mapping capability (probably not necessary as you will be dumping this data into the laptop) and a colour screen ($350.00). Either way everything is compatible.
Ken in Regina
Hi Ken,

Thanks for the reminder about the Outlook connection from Mobile PC. I don't use Outlook so I had overlooked it.

If the original poster was to consider the GPS 72H and Mobile PC, he should probably consider the software-only version of Mobile PC. That way he could just use the 72H as the receiver for the laptop when he's not using it as a handheld. The press release you linked says it does NMEA 0183 on the USB port.

If it's a model that the software-only version refuses to acknowledge, there are two easy and simple workarounds. One is ProITM's patched version of Mobile PC. The other is GPSGate to filter the input (it's cheap).

The 72H is an excellent selection anyway, even with Streets&Trips. It will work as a receiver for Streets&Trips as well as a rugged handheld. The black/white display is great for visibility even in bright sunlight (versus colour displays which can sometimes be a bit of a problem in bright sunlight).

The buttons on the front versus buttons on the side, like the eTrex models, is personal preference. I love my eTrex Legend HCx, but I'm not really crazy about the little joystick on the front for navigating on the screen and especially for entering manual data, like a waypoint name. I think the 72H will be a little handier for that, but that's probably personal preference, too. A person really needs to get one in their hand to see.

An alternative, if the original poster wants a colour display and routing ability and still keep the cost down is the Gamin eTrex line. The line is designed for outdoor hiking use. The ones that don't float are still very water-resistant (I use eTrex Legend HCx on the golf course frequently and I've dropped it in mud puddles a couple of times with no ill effects).

The eTrex Legend H is the same price as the GPS 72H, has a higher resolution black/white display (actually they are both 4-level greyscale), and it comes with a built in basemap that shows major roadways, cities, lakes, rivers, railroads, etc. It has 24MB of internal memory available for loading additional detail maps.

If you want essentially the same unit as the Legend H but with a colour display, the eTrex Venture HC is generally around $10-$20 more than the other two.

The eTrex series send the Garmin proprietary protocol out the USB port so it would be necessary to use GPSGate to get them to work as receivers for Streets&Trips (that's what I do).

Great help guys!!!
thanks... I've tried downloading the Streets and trips software twice with out any success... so I'll probably just go buy the CD... still shopping for the GPS unit.
if I ever get started I'll give you a post on how its all working for me, and I;m sure I will have more questions when it comes to handling the data.
Thanks again!
If you do that, make sure you get a 2010 version. Many retailers are still selling old stock - 2009 - and the box looks almost identical to 2010.

The other thing I would suggest is using an ultra-micro PC (such as the Viliv S5) that comes with built-in GPS, Bluetooth, and Wifi (also G3 as an option). It runs Win XP so any program (like Streets) will work just fine on it. Weighs less than a pound, good battery life, etc...

Good luck!
Mandolin Guy
If this is for a government operation, you might want to consider ArcView by ESRI. It's kind pricey but it can be used for a lot more than just water meters. You can set it up to show sewer lines, fire hydrants, police zones (or beats), government districts, plats, crime stats and much more. Aerials can be overlayed. It will read and manage scores of data types.

It does a lot more than I can describe here. Go to ArcView | Demos for some demos.

Like I said, it's a little pricey but for a government operation, it can be invaluable. About