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Virtual Earth

By Nicholas Rougeux, posted on May 24, 2005 in Web

It was announced by Bill Gates today that a new service will be revealed this summer called MSN Virtual Earth—Clearly a direct competitor to Google Maps.

I for one love Google maps and like many, enjoy playing around with it once I've found the information that I need. They've done a spectacular job implementing AJAX and I like that they listen to their visitors' suggestions on how elements of it could be made better.

MSN Virtual Earth certainly looks very nice from the screenshots and it appears that it will work very similarly to Google maps with the smooth dragging and semi-pleasing environment. Among the features that will be offered are street map overlays on satellite images, special searches for things like restaurants and businesses, and angled views of some areas.

Street maps overlayed on satellite images is something I've been wanting for a little while now in Google maps. I don't doubt that they'll probably implement it at some point. It's easier to see the streets as you're flying around the satellite views instead of switching back and forth.

Conducting special searches for things like restaurants is already possible in Google maps if you type something like "restaurants near chicago" but I guess Virtual Earth might make that more apparent according to the screenshot. Though the screenshot gives me the impression that you can create your own custom searches like restaurants, groceries, drug stores, etc. That might be nice. Though I don't like seeing the ads or "sponsored links" there in each box. Can't we have one app without ads for a change? Oh yeah, Google doesn't have them (yet).

I'm undecided on the angled view feature. They tout it as being a 45-degree-angle view of businesses and neighborhoods but while that's fun and all, what if I want to see the side that's not shown in the angled view. A building could be in my way or I want to see the other side of it so I can see where I'll be going. Will we have the ability to rotate the view? Or for that matter, will we be able to rotate any view? That would certainly be wonderful.

Overall, I think it'll be interesting to see Microsoft's version of Google Maps but I do wish they'd stop copying others and start innovating for themselves. I know Google isn't the first company to offer maps or satellite views but they implemented it better than anyone. It seems that all Microsoft is doing is copying them, adding a feature or two, integrating it with their whole let-us-organize-your-life-for-you system, and giving it a '90s-style snazzy name. Seriously, "Virtual Earth?" Why must they add "MSN/Microsoft/Windows" to the name of every single product they make? I already rambled about this in The Name Game a while ago so I won't go into it here.

Anyway, it should be interesting.


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