In a discussion about PHP MapScript on the #mapserver IRC channel yesterday, Jeff McKenna pointed out that the PHP MapScript module must be about 10 years old.
He was indeed right. After a quick lookup of the mapserver-users list archives we found that my first post about what was about to become PHP MapScript was sent on January 26, 2000, exactly 10 years ago to the day. Development of the module started in the following weeks and it became available to users in May.
This prompted me to dig out my very first post to the mapserver-users list, which was sent a few hours after I found and fell in love with the software. That was on January 11, 2000, and the title of the message sums it up well: "Wow!". After this it didn't take long for us at DM Solutions to decide to adopt MapServer as our web mapping platform of choice and to start developing and promoting it to our clients.
Here is another bit of history to put this all in context. At the time, the DM Solutions team had been in the business of building web mapping sites for its clients using proprietary packages since 1998. After almost two years of frustrations, fighting bugs and limitations in expensive proprietary black boxes, we decided that it was time to switch to a more open web mapping platform. We had all the open source components and expertise required to build our own (GDAL/OGR, GD, OWT libs), but before reinventing the wheel I figured I'd do a bit of research.
On January 4, 2000 I posted our wish list for a Web Mapping Engine to the (now defunct) GIS-L list. I got responses pointing to several packages, but none of them met all our requirements, especially the points about open system and multi-platform support. Of course our list was ambitious, but none of what we asked for was impossible, it's just that no single vendor had done it all.
The reason for my excitement after finding MapServer a few days later was that I could see the potential from day one. The MapServer project was started by Steve Lime about 5 years earlier, it already met many of our requirements, and I knew that given its solid bases and open source nature the missing pieces could be added over time.
Hats off to Steve Lime for building such a great system, and for being such a great guy to work with. In the years that followed, all the missing bits from our original wish list were added, and the project and its team grew in size and maturity. More on this in a future post I guess.
Here you go... now you know how I got involved in MapServer, exactly 10 years ago, and the fun continues today.