Topo USA 4.0 and Street Atlas USA Deluxe: A Comparative Review

–Keith Conover, M.D., FACEP
version 2.1,
July 17, 2002

Copyright © 2001 by Keith Conover, M.D., FACEP; may be reproduced or republished in toto, including this notice, as desired by search and rescue organizations without permission, but other use requires written or email permission.

Introduction: Pros and Cons of In–Vehicle Laptop Navigation

Over many years in mountain and cave rescue and prehospital emergency care, some realizations have crept up on me.

In-Vehicle Navigation is Bad

The most dangerous part of any emergency response is driving to it, and, particularly, driving back home after it’s all over.  Far more deaths have occurred driving back from search and rescue operations than during them.  Driving a car is inherently very dangerous – compared to safe activities like flying on commercial aircraft, or participating in a search and rescue operation with a competent group of people.  So when people are fatigued and exhausted, and their adrenaline is gone, and they are doing something boring that they do everyday (driving), then accidents happen.  Deadly accidents. And, as has been widely publicized, distractions like using a cellphone (or a laptop with a map program) may contribute to accidents – although rigorous evidence to this effect is still sketchy.

If you are interested in more in the dangers of fatigue, especially in search and rescue, check out Bob Koester’s page on the topic at

Although using a map program in a vehicle potentially can make driving more dangerous, there are ways to minimize this danger. My suggestions:

·        Get a Jotto Desk ( or for your vehicle, and mount the laptop so the screen is just below your line of sight looking out the front of the vehicle – sort of a “poor man’s heads–up display.”   Instead of using the straps that come with the Jotto desk, get some 1” and 2” sticky Velcro™: put the 1” hook  Velcro on the back of your laptop.  About 12” of the 1” Velcro™ is about right, distributed around the bottom of the laptop.  Don’t use more, or you won’t be able to get your laptop back off again!  Place a lot of 2” pile Velcro™ on the top of the Jotto Desk.  Since the hook Velcro will make your laptop slippery on desks and the like, at least if it is thicker than the rubber feet of your laptop, go to your local hardware store and get some round little clear plastic feet, and put them on the bottom of you laptop to make it non–slippery on desks.

·        Click on the Power icon in the System Tray and select a setting (mine is named “always on”) that doesn’t require you to keep hitting the shift key to “unblank” the screen. Get a 12V power supply for your laptop and mount under the Jotto desk so your battery won’t run dry.

·        If you use Street Atlas Deluxe, you can use its speech recognition facility along with a headmounted microphone such as the Shure HW505. This way you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel.  Note that, although a headset with an earphone is nice for hearing what Street Atlas is saying, headphones, even over just one ear, are illegal while driving in some states. An amplified 12–V speaker can be used to boost your laptop’s puny speakers, and such things are available from ham radio suppliers. A headmounted microphone, without an earpiece, is legal in all states as far as I can tell.

·        I have used speech recognition off and on for in-vehicle navigation since discrete speech (Kurzweil Voice) was first available for PCs. I’m still not sure it’s really worth it.  Simply being able to set the route before you start and then keeping your vehicle on the highlighted line seems to work pretty well.  And what control you need to do can be accomplished with a few alt-keys that are easy to perform without looking while driving, or with the arrow-keys or PageUp and PageDown keys.

In-Vehicle Navigation is GOOD!

But there are some valid arguments for map programs making your vehicle safer. It’s very embarrassing to be driving around at top speed with lights and siren. . . then to slow down and stop, then turn off the lights and siren. . .  then to drive back and forth a bit. . . then finally pull up to a rural gas station to ask directions. And think… the erratic driving when trying to find the right location is a danger to you and to others on the road, and lengthens the time you’re on the road, subject to the dangers of fatigue while driving.

Another couple of advantages to having your laptop and a map program up all the time.  First, if you come across an accident, you can immediately tell where you are when you call for help. And if traffic is snarled because of construction or an accident, you can immediately pull off of the Interstate and have confidence you can quickly plot a course using back roads to get around the obstruction.

So, in many ways, having Street Atlas on a laptop in your vehicle can make driving safer. If you have a GPS and hook it up to your laptop (as with my Garmin GPS III+ with a MightyMouse 2 active external antenna – better than the Garmin GA–26), it will plot where you are on the map. And, if you’re told your map program to plot a route, so it shows on the screen, all you have to do is make sure that the GPS shows you on–route the entire time.

Which means that (real experience talking now), as you’re driving by yourself, at night, in the rain, in an unfamiliar area, you don’t have to look for road signs. You just slow down when a turn is coming up on the map, turn when it tells you to turn, and then keep on going. As long as the green GPS track is on top of the route, then you don’t have to worry about route finding.  You don’t have to stop and open the fogged up window and point your flashlight at the road signs, and look at the map being soaked by the rain coming in the window, to figure out where you are.

And when you’re driving in a winter whiteout, you can immediately see that you’ve followed the edge of the road off the exit and immediately get back on the Interstate.

Or when you’re driving in a caravan in the fog and mist, in a caravan in route to a SAR training exercise, you know to slow down and turn at the right place, so everyone behind you is in the right place and all the people in front went on down the Interstate (including the people who were laughing as I was having a hard time installing the laptop and GPS in my vehicle a couple of weeks earlier).

Topo USA 4.0

I recently (July 2002) received a review copy of Topo USA 4.0.  I’d made the mistake of purchasing the prior versions of Topo USA, which were to my mind, a waste of money.  But with Topo USA 4.0, I’ve found something vastly improved.  In fact, I think I’m going to use Topo USA 4.0 instead of Street Atlas Deluxe on my laptop for navigation for at least the next few months.

What is It?

Delorme’s Topo USA 4.0 is an interesting and unique topo map program, and has no real competitors. It is similar in some ways to Street Atlas Deluxe: it is an all–vector program (no raster topo maps), and it uses the same database as Street Atlas USA 9.0, only the data set includes contours and woodland overprint and excludes some Points of Interest (restaurants, etc.).. Also unlike Street Atlas USA, it does offer Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) grids and measurements, which are becoming increasingly important to SAR teams.  You can get Topo USA 4.0 in a version on DVD which includes topo information for the entire USA – something that would be impossible for a raster program such as Terrain Navigator or 3D TopoQuads.

Please note that if you get the DVD version for the entire USA, you can install the entire DVD to your hard disk – but it takes more than 3 GB of space! If you want to load just one local area onto your laptop’s hard drive, and don’t have 3GB to spare, order the CD version for your area. Unlike Street Atlas USA 9.0 and previous, Topo USA and Street Atlas Deluxe insist that your load the entire CD or DVD onto your hard drive. I sincerely hope this ability to extract and load only a portion of data is something Delorme will add back in at some point.

Given the new interface of Street Atlas Deluxe is so similar to that of Topo USA and 3D Topoquads, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there will eventually be a version, using DVD format for the data for a region (say one state), which combines the Topo USA woodland overprint and contour lines and trail information along with all of the Street Atlas Deluxe and Topo USA features, maybe even with the raster 7.5’ and 1:100,000 USGS map data, for an area. Now THAT should be a real winner of a program for SAR!

A Substitute for Street Atlas?

Topo USA 4.0 has enough features that you can use it for in-vehicle navigation.  Like Street Atlas Deluxe, and unlike Topo USA 3.0, this version adds full street-address to street-address routing. You can add MapNotes on draw layers (useful for recording places you want to be able to find again – note that you can turn off the draw layer to get rid of all those pesky MapNotes until you need them again, just use the Advanced tab of the Map Files or MapData tab and unclick the checkbox.) And you can even import your Street Atlas USA Deluxe draw objects and MapNotes.  Like Street Atlas Deluxe, you have full-featured GPS support. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, Topo USA 4.0 has all the new features of Street Atlas Deluxe, see below.

Topo USA 4.0 Display

The display isn’t as easy to read in bright light compared to Street Atlas Deluxe.  The contours and shaded relief decrease the contrast – but to my mind, with modern laptop screens, and a visor over your laptop’s screen, the visibility is just fine. You can get a good laptop visor from A2z Mobile Office Essentials (800) 347-6222. But the extra topographic information and woodland overprint add so much, and make such beautiful onscreen maps in this version,  that I’m willing to forgo a little contrast. Unlike Street Atlas Deluxe, Topo USA 4.0 doesn’t have Mobile Map Colors (black background with white lettering), not a major loss in my estimation. You won’t mistake it for a 7.5’ quad, it doesn’t have that level of detail at the higher zoom levels.  And indeed, Street Atlas USA Deluxe can zoom in one more level than Topo USA 4.0, but that final zoom level doesn’t seem to add much to Street Atlas anyway. But you really need to look at the onscreen maps – they’ve got the contours and the shaded relief done just right. For those who love topo maps, this is pure eye candy.

The figure, due to pixelization from JPEG compression, as well as my using a 150 percent magnification (useful when using in a car) means this doesn’t look as pretty as in real life, but here it is.

OK, What are the Drawbacks of Topo USA 4.0?

Topo USA 4.0 also suffers from the same “modal” problems as Street Atlas USA Deluxe, see below.

And, at equivalent zoom levels, Street Atlas USA Deluxe does show a just a bit more in the way of street and road names and numbers, and does highlight major secondary roads with a thicker line than you’ll see on Topo USA 4.0’s screen.  But there is plenty of detail, the differences are relatively slight.

Topo USA 3.0 had virtually no trail information.  Topo USA 4.0 has a lot, and you can search for them by name.  It’s not perfect:  I found a number of significant errors and omissions even in popular hiking areas. I selected several popular hiking areas, both nationally- and regionally- known.:

·       Many trails even in national parks are named incorrectly, such as Dickey Ridge Trail not connecting to the Appalachian Trail in the northern part of Shenandoah National Park

·       Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania, Cooper’s Rock State Forest, West Virginia: hardly any trails shown

·       Raccoon Creek State Park, Pennsylvania: no hiking trails shown

·       Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia: trails are 20 years out of date

·       Otter Creek Wilderness Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia: trails unnamed, out of date

·       Except for major long trails like the Appalachian Trail, trail names aren’t shown on the map, even as an option.

·       When you try to find the name of a trail by right-clicking and picking “Info” you only get the name for a small segment of a trail, not the entire length of the trail, so it’s very hard to figure out which trails go where.

Pennsylvania is well-known to have more miles of hiking trails than almost any other state, as well as many long-distance backpacking trails. I decided to search for some of these long-distance trails and see what I found.  Although it shows that Delorme needs to gather a lot more trail information, it also may encourage people to investigate and hike some of Pennsylvania’s long trails!

·       Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail: shown more or less entire and labeled as such, although the trail location is wildly inaccurate (off by half a mile for long segments, check the LHHT near Ohiopyle for an example), and no shelters or side-trails shown.

·       Black Forest Trail: instead of a 42-mile loop trail, I found a single 1-mile long dead-end trail

·       Susquehannock Trail: instead of an 85-mile loop trail, I found nothing

·       Horseshoe Trail: instead of .a 140-mile horseback trail, I found a 1-mile side-trail to the Appalachian Trail.

·       Conestoga Trail: instead of a 65-mile-long trail, I found nothing.

·       Mason-Dixon Trail: instead of a 200-mile-long trail, I found nothing

·       Warrior Trail: instead of a 70-mile-long trail, I found nothing.

·       Catawba Trail: instead of a 30-mile-long trail, I found nothing

·       Youghiogheny River Trail: instead of a 43-mile-long trail, I found nothing.

·       Rachel Carson Trail/Baker Trail: instead of 34 mile and 141-mile long trails, I found nothing.

·       Mid-State Trail: instead of a 200-mile-long trail, I found nothing.

·       Quehanna Trail: instead of a 75-mile loop trail, I found a 2-mile trail section that didn’t connect to another trail or even a road

·       Tuscarora Trail: instead of a 250-mile-long trail in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia, I found nothing.

·       North Country National Scenic Trail (follows the Baker Trail in part): able to find manually, but not labeled on the map.

·       Tried the 50-mile Batona Trail in New Jersey: nothing.

Nonetheless, Topo USA has more trail information than any other similar product. And if the next version has as many trail improvements as in the jump from 3.0 to 4.0, it’s going to be excellent.  What they really need to do is to find a backpacking guide fanatic in each major hiking area, and get that person to buy all the hiking guides for the local area and send to them.

What else do you lose by using Topo USA 4.0 instead of Street Atlas USA Deluxe with which to navigate?  Voice navigation.   What else do you gain with Topo USAAbility to import routable trails or roads via downloading a GPS track to your PC.  Slick.

Looking back, I’m not sure I’ve done this program justice.  This is a program that, while not perfect, is very likable.  The maps are quite pleasant on the eyes, easy to interpret, and for the most part quite accurate. Unless you really need the restaurants or voice navigation, get Topo USA instead of Street Atlas Deluxe.

Street Atlas Deluxe: a New Face

[This review of SA Deluxe dates from October 2001 and is now slightly updated.] As you can tell, I’m a fan of using a laptop with Street Atlas for real–time in–vehicle navigation, and have been for some time, despite some early problems. (“No, no, Street Atlas says we’re still on the right route!” “Well, yes, but it also says we haven’t moved for the past hour.” “Oh. Hmmm. I guess we DID miss the exit.”) I have tried a number of alternatives to Street Atlas over the years, and although some had prettier maps, none had the depth of detail or functionality that Street Atlas offers. (But see above about Topo USA 4.0.)

Sidebar: I do remember we installed one of Delorme’s competitors in the Jeep used by emergency medicine residents to respond to critical prehospital emergencies here in Pittsburgh. We pulled it out a few weeks later. The interface wasn’t as good as Street Atlas, the supplied mini–laptop had a pathetic screen, and with the short amount of time the residents had to get used to a system, it was just a miserable failure. But for personnel who use the same vehicle over and over, Street Atlas or Topo USA and a laptop with a full screen can be an excellent navigation solution. Even when in a hurry to get to a rescue, I almost always take the time to put the laptop on the Jotto desk and fire up Street Atlas or Topo USA. Even if I know where I’m going, the “moving map” being always available means that detours around construction or roadway closures only take a few seconds to figure out.

The development team at Delorme has been working on a new interface for quite a while now, one that eschews many of the Microsoft Windows standards.  Instead, they have developed new user–interface design elements specifically suited for Street Atlas and related programs. We’ve seen some of these elements in Topo USA, Delorme’s vector–based topographic map program. (By vector–based, this means that there are no digitized 7.5’ USGS topo maps, just mathematical descriptions of where the contours should be drawn on–screen.)  

Instead of a toolbar and menu bar across the top, there are bars at the bottom and bar at the right side. The right–side bar contains controls and displays for zoom level, panning, map rotation (new with Street Atlas Deluxe: north up, southeast up, or any arbitrary degree up), the cursor’s latitude and longitude, the magnify level (not the same as zoom level), and a scale bar.

As with past versions, Street Atlas Deluxe allows zooming from level 2 (shows all of North America, Alaska and Hawaii) to level 16 (shows an area about 100x75 meters, depending on your screen resolution). However, the new version also allows incremental zooming (8 levels) between these fifteen levels – the amount of detail doesn’t change, but the amount of terrain shown on the screen does change. Now is a good time to introduce the new MAGNIFY function. What this does is take whatever is showing on screen and magnify it all: map, lettering, everything. Magnify levels are 50%, 75%, 100%, 150%, 200%; a zoom of 150% or 200% makes it easier to see on a small screen, or when driving – a big improvement over the “mobile map colors” in past versions!

The bar at the bottom, however, contains the major elements of the new user interface. There are a series of tabs across this bar (Find, Print, Map Files, Draw, GPS, Route, Voice, Map Display, Handheld, Netlink). Each tab contains a set of functions accessed by a few buttons. I like the tabbed–notebook metaphor, and Delorme wisely avoided Microsoft’s confusing use of multiple ranks of tabs.

The figure, a relatively large JPEG, shows some of these features.  Note in particular the map rotation, the 11–6 zoom level, the 150% magnification (the map looks prettier without magnification, but is easier to read with the magnification), and the easier–to–see route.

Major New Features

There are many, many new and improved features, only a few of which appear in this review or the help file documentation. Indeed, one of the joys of the new program is being able to find these new features (most are well–designed enough that they really require little if any documentation – good user interface design). A listing of what I see as the major new features, some of which were mentioned above, include:

·       INCREMENTAL ZOOM: Ability to zoom in incremental zoom levels – no change in the geographic detail presented, but can see more or less area on screen.

·       MAGNIFY: not the same as zoom, this magnifies everything, including the text labels – makes it much easier to see on a laptop screen in a vehicle.

·       ROTATE: Ability to rotate the map view from north up to any other compass direction up.

·       MOUSE ZOOM OUT: Ability to use the mouse to zoom OUT as well as in – click and drag left and up, which shows a little “staircase” that allows you to select the zoom–out level.

·       AUTOMATIC RECALCULATION: Routes automatically calculate; as soon as you make a change, it redraws.

·       MULTIPLE ROUTES: You can have multiple routes in memory at once – the active route shows a solid highlight (BTW, the highlight is MUCH easier to see in the Deluxe version) and calculated but non–active routes are shown by a dashed highlight. You may easily clear the display of any active route by right–clicking and then select “hide route” – not sure why you have to activate a calculated but non–active route to be able to then right–click and hide it, but it’s only another couple of clicks. You can also show or hide routes via their checkboxes in the Route tab, Directions button. Since the calculations are retained in memory, reactivating a route is nearly instantaneous. Routes are saved in files on disk, so once you get a route “wired” with all the shortcuts, you can easily save or share with others.

·       IMPROVED GPS PLAYBACK: With the old version, you could import a GPS log file (*.gpl) and it would show as a highlighted line on the map. I found this particularly useful, for example, when someone led me in a caravan to a place I’d never been. If I ever need to go there again, I just retrieved the .gpl file, and followed the highlight on my map. With Street Atlas Deluxe, the .gpl files can be played back, and with much more control – the interface looks like a CD player, with fast–forward controls, pause, stop, and record buttons. Very nice. But if you want to import it simply as a line in Street Atlas Deluxe, you need to do it from Draw > File > Import.

·       BETTER SEARCHING: You can enter a Route destination with minimal information (like Robinhood Road, Pittsburgh, PA) and the program, with considerable intelligence, will search for the right destination. Though there isn’t room here to go into details of the program’s ability to search for and find places, it is very much improved over the old interface.

·       ADD NEW ROADS: You can add new local roads, and they can be used for routing. However, you cannot add new “minor connectors” or state roads or interstates, nor can you upgrade your new road from local road to any other status, nor can you add trails.

·       BETTER DISPLAY: The program now has a much more pleasing and easy–to–read map display – roads now curve more gently, antialiasing (smoothing the edges of text and small lines) is better, and there is a better display of unnamed streets at higher “mag” levels. When you have a color display capable of showing many colors, the program now takes advantage of this by using a more subtle but very–readable color palette.

·       INTEGRATED VOICE–RECOGNITION: Previous versions of Street Atlas have been able to talk to you to give you directions (and now Street Atlas Deluxe can say “turn left” or “turn right” instead of giving a compass direction). To this, Street Atlas USA offers voice control. I have to admit I’ve played with this for a number of years, using discrete speech recognition programs from Kurzweil and more recently a continuous speech engine from Lernout and Hauspie (L&H), Voice Express Pro. I must say that, despite my using L&H speech recognition for all my charting (I’m an emergency physician), I found that the earlier Kurzweil discrete–word recognition package worked better. Why? Fewer things to recognize: and when the speech engine only has to distinguish between a very short list of words, it’s a lot more accurate. I found with previous attempts at speech control of Street Atlas that I had to keep the car windows shut to get it to work, and had to spend a lot of time twiddling. But with my Shure HW505 head–mounted close–talk microphone (the best I’ve found for speech recognition) I can use the speech recognition in Street Atlas Deluxe almost flawlessly with no training. I DO wish they would take a page from the software I use at work and place a big button on the right status bar, though: RED for Mike Off, and GREEN for Mike On, and you can click it with the mouse to turn the mike on or off.  Note: for speech recognition in noisy areas like our Emergency Department or in a car, you want a electret microphone, rather than a condenser microphone; and, you do want a microphone with a separate noise–canceling microphone opposite the “listening” microphone.  The Shure HW505 meets these requirements and information is posted at

·       Extra Credit: Try holding the mouse cursor near the edge of the map and see what happens to the cursor. Try clicking when you see the cursor change and see what happens.

Upgrading from Previous Versions

You can import all of your Street Atlas 8.0 information, as follows:

·       To import your last saved route, drag and drop your startup.sa8 (or any other .sa8 files you might have, usually in C:\Program Files\Street Atlas USA 8.0\, onto Street Atlas Deluxe.

·       More useful is to import all your Draw objects: from Street Atlas Deluxe, select the Draw > File > Import to import startup.sa8

·       You can use all your old GPS logs as well: copy all your .gpl files, usually in C:\Program Files\Street Atlas USA 8.0\ into C:\Delorme Docs\GPS Logs\ and they will appear in Street Atlas Deluxe.

What Do You Lose?

Do you lose anything in upgrading to the new interface version? Yes, a few things:

·       Unlike Street Atlas 9.0 and previous versions, you lose the ability to hover the mouse button over a road or feature and see the name in the status line (though I hear this is coming back in the next version). You CAN right–click and select Info from the context–menu, but this is certainly not as easy as with the older versions of Street Atlas.

·       Woodland overprint is gone. (But, to save space on the CD, it’s also missing from Street Atlas 9.0, which has the older interface but the same, latest data as Street Atlas Deluxe.)

·       Trails are gone. Even the northern terminus of the world’s most famous trail, right in Delorme’s own Maine backyard, isn’t shown any more. (The Appalachian Trail on Mt. Katahdin.) Although Street Atlas 8.0 didn’t have a lot of trails, compared with Topo USA 3.0, or USGS topo maps or hiking–club trail maps, it still had some. But with Street Atlas 9.0 and Street Atlas Deluxe (same database, different interface), even the Appalachian Trail is gone. This and the woodland overprint went away to save CD space for new streets and roads, but for SAR teams and anyone interested in the outdoors, their loss is deeply felt.  (You can use Topo USA to see them, but Topo USA it really doesn’t have the high–quality road navigation tools as in Street Atlas.)

·       The Extractor is gone. With Street Atlas Deluxe, if you want to run off your hard disk without the CD–ROM you must install the whole CD to hard disk (561 MB) rather than extracting states or counties. However, with the entire dataset (but with limited POIs = Points of Interest), the load on your hard disk for program and data is 646.5 megabytes – not bad considering Street Atlas 8.0 with three states extracted onto my hard drive consumed 440.6 megabytes! Adding ALL of the POIs though, added only 167 megabytes. This seems like a lot until you realize this is the entire USA on your hard drive.

What’s Not There Yet?

Yes, Street Atlas Deluxe is a must–buy upgrade. And it’s a good, solid chunk of software, even if you’ve never used it before. But there are some things missing, many of which are also problems with Topo USA 4.0.


Unlike Topo USA 4.0, Street Atlas Deluxe still doesn’t offer UTM/MGRS coordinates or grids, which is a big problem for SAR teams.

No Upgradeable Roads

In both programs, one can still edit a road as far as one–ways, etc., as with previous versions, but there is still no way to upgrade or downgrade the quality of a road (e.g., change from “local road” to “minor connector” for a good shortcut so the program will preferentially route you this way). I’ve tried upgrading the speed for local roads, which helps a bit in better routing, but that’s a poor kludge: the program still makes me go a half–mile out of my way to use a “minor connector” instead of local roads. This ability to edit a road’s level is in the works for a future update, I hope.

Modal Interfaces Suck

With the old Street Atlas USA interface you could use the arrow keys or the PageUp/PageDown keys at any time to move the map around. However, the new tabbed bar at the bottom – even when minimized – will keep the “focus” for the keyboard, and often you can’t use the keys to pan or zoom until you click on the map itself. Any annoying change in the program, and one that even long experience with the program won’t likely go away for users – the user interface team will need to make the focus automatically return to the map when the button bar is minimized, and perhaps reserve the PageUp/PageDown and arrow keys for the map except when absolutely needed for a list within one of the tab panes.

Yes, the tabbed bar at the bottom is a good user interface device. Nonetheless, it’s easy to get visually lost in the various panels within each tab – there’s no visual indication of “where you are” within the tab. If they used a little of the real estate in each tabbed pane for a few tabs at the left, or some other visual indication of where within the tab one “was,” it would get a lot higher marks from me. (But note that, on a professional basis, I regularly lecture on user interface design for emergency medicine software, so I’m probably more critical than most.) Overall, though, I’d give the interface a solid B–. (In my book, most software rates a D or an F, so I consider a B– pretty high praise.)

The principle is clear to any user interface designer:  as much as possible, all major tasks (like PageUp/PageDown to zoom in or out) should be modeless, that is, they should work no matter which mode you’re in.  Examples: assume you’ve just clicked on the “GPS Pan On” button, or clicked on something in one of the tabs and minimized the tabs.  You then press the PageUp key to zoom out.  What happens? Your PageUp key affects the “GPS Pan On” button, toggling it on and off – or, does something in the invisible tab at the bottom. (What does it do? No way of telling, as you can’t see it!)

“Use GPS as Route Start”

Since I first wrote this review back in October of 2001, I’ve used Street Atlas Deluxe a fair bit, and have found a few things more that are lacking, most particularly, a “use current GPS position as route start” function and the ability to use the keyboard for shortcuts to common functions.  I’ve also talked with several people who really truly prefer the old interface.

Weblink Construction Info 2 Years Out of Date

I have also tried the Weblink option to download construction information. This is a bad joke. First, if you click on one of the construction signs on the map, it takes you to your web browser just to view three lines.

And I live in Pittsburgh where I-279 going south from downtown Pittsburgh has been closed for months and will be closed for more months, as well as major construction along many area highways.  But when I tried to download construction information for this area, where’s the nearest construction flag to Pittsburgh?  Fifty miles east where there is a note about construction along the Pennsylvania Turnpike that is scheduled to be completed in “October 2000.”  Hmph.  Forget that.  And this same facility is in Topo USA 4.0 and works exactly the same. Nice idea, but don’t bother to try it for a couple of more versions.

The Future of Street Atlas and Comparison with Other Programs

Street Atlas has several competitors, and at one time or another, I’ve tried them, as well as some similar programs for navigating in Britain and Ireland. Though some competitors, notable the Microsoft product, look slicker on first use, they certainly don’t have the depth of information on the maps, nor do they “wear” as well as you get to know them better. All programs improve over the years, and there may be some “leapfrogging” where one program comes out with a new upgrade before the others, but Street Atlas seems to stay ahead over the long run. If you haven’t bought a street map program before, I recommend Street Atlas Deluxe or Topo USA 4.0 (see above).

But what about other types of map programs, even from Delorme? Well, first, let me discuss raster topo map programs. These programs display bitmaps of the USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps – basically they show pictures. These raster topo map programs have no “vector” information (mathematical descriptions of curves such as roads and rivers). Therefore, unlike Street Atlas, you can’t enter a street address and zipcode for start and finish and almost instantly see a route plotted. But if you need detailed topo maps of an area, for hiking, for search and rescue, or similar uses, such a program is ideal.

The market leader is without question Maptech’s Terrain Navigator. When Delorme came out with their 3D Topoquads, Maptech suddenly and drastically reduced their price. Terrain Navigator’s raster topo map visual quality is superior to that of 3D Topoquads, and unlike 3D TopoQuads, the display still looks very good at multiple zoom levels. When you zoom out far enough in Terrain Navigator, you see a display of the 1:100,000 USGS map for the area. As with Street Atlas USA or 3D Topoquads or Topo USA, you can use a GPS with Terrain Navigator. Although this isn’t a review of Terrain Navigator, and it still has some significant limitations, if you want to view and print topo maps of an area, it is the one to buy. The new version has a 3D addon (I guess to compete with Delorme) but in both programs it seems to be glitz that should have been ignored to make the base program stronger.

Delorme’s 3D Topoquads is an interesting program, but quite different from Terrain Navigator. 3D TopoQuads will display all the 7.5’ topo maps for an area, in a seamless fashion.  3D TopoQuads provides elevation and location data, so you can search for particular places or view the topo map superimposed on a 3D reconstruction of the elevation. As you zoom back to look at the large picture, what you see is a vector display similar to Street Atlas USA, with added contours and woodland overprint, but without street names. It also shows the names of the 1:100,000 USGS maps and the quadrangles as you zoom out, but unlike Terrain Navigator, doesn’t actually show the real USGS 1:100,000 raster maps. It’s an interesting program, but with the poor visual display, and lack of 1:100,000 USGS raster maps, it falls significantly behind Terrain Navigator.

Installation Tips

Delorme suggests you use MSCONFIG to disable all startup options except for SYSTEM.INI (note that carefully) and reboot for a “clean install” prior to installing Street Atlas Deluxe. However, a lot of people use MSCONFIG to disable selected startup items – which is a good idea, as many programs install all sorts of junk that takes up memory and makes your system more likely to crash. however, if you have disabled only some startup items with MSCONFIG already, and then turn off and on the startup items with MSCONFIG, you will end up with all your startup items enabled.

Also, Topo USA 4.0 installed clean with no need for any fancy maneuvers, so maybe the new version of Street Atlas Deluxe (Street Atlas 2003) will install much more easily.

There is a simple solution to the Street Atlas Deluxe install problem, which is worth doing even if you don’t want to install Street Atlas Deluxe: download the free program Startup Cop from PC Magazine (, and use it to save a backup profile of which startup items you want to disable. Then, when you’ve installed Street Atlas USA, re–enable all the startup items in MSCONFIG, then use Startup Cop to restore your profile of disabled startup items and reboot.

By the way, Startup Cop is much better than MSCONFIG for clearing out all those creepy little things that get installed in your System Tray and that you have no use for. Real Network’s StartCenter, which gets installed every time you use RealPlayer, is the particular subject of my wrath in this regard, but there are lots of other things worth disabling. On my system, I’ve disabled:

·       ws_ftp’s ftp queue

·       Scheduling Agent

·       RealTray

·       Creative Launcher

·       LapLink Scheduler

·       Creative AudioHQ

·       Quicken Billminder

·       WinFax Controller

Getting rid of some of these things will make your system more stable and make memory hog programs (like Street Atlas Deluxe, unfortunately) much less likely to crash the system.


So, what’s the bottom line?

Street Atlas Deluxe is a much–changed but much–improved successor to Street Atlas USA. Though the program has a few minor awkwardnesses and is missing a significant few features, the upgrade is a no–brainer. Get Street Atlas Deluxe, and dump your old version of Street Atlas. (Save your .sa8 and .gpl files to import if you have anything worth saving, though.)  

Or, if you’d like much better maps with some trail information, and you’re willing to give up restaurant locations and voice navigation, get Topo USA 4.0.

Consider running it on a laptop in your vehicle on a Jotto desk – though it’ll take you some work to get it wired up, it’s worth it.

I hope you enjoy in-vehicle navigation with one of these programs as much as I do.


Dr. Conover has no relationship, financial or otherwise, with Delorme, except as a paying and mostly satisfied customer, and getting occasional review copies of their software (which is more than he can say about his relationship with most software companies).