December 7, 2005 12:33 PM PST

Microsoft offers a new angle on maps

Microsoft on Thursday unveiled a beta version of Windows Live Local, which is based on its Virtual Earth aerial image application and integrates local search, mapping, driving directions and yellow pages with a bird's-eye view of major U.S. cities.

The service offers a 45-degree bird's-eye view covering about one-quarter of the country's population. Cities include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Las Vegas.

The bird's-eye images, captured by Pictometry International using low-flying planes, are integrated with road and satellite maps to simulate 360-degree panoramas that can be viewed from any of the four different compass directions. Users can choose between directional views, for instance, to see the front or back sides of buildings, or zoom closer using on-screen navigation tools and preview tiles.

The new service also enables users to create customized maps by adding user-created pushpins, as well as annotate maps and share maps and local search information with others via e-mail by posting them as blogs on MSN Spaces or through MSN Messenger.

Users don't need to know the address or name of a place to locate its whereabouts, but can simply point and click to get directions. They can also click on a point on a map, including on a parking lot, building or open space, to create a pushpin there and get driving directions to that exact spot. In addition, users can switch between the aerial view and the birds-eye view of a map.

Microsoft plans to expand the bird's-eye view coverage with its exclusive partnership with Pictometry to cover as much as 90 percent of the U.S. population, which means the big cities but not all the "corn farms in Nebraska," said Stephen Lawler, general manager for MapPoint and MSN Virtual Earth. The bird's-eye images are also likely to be refreshed every year, with areas such as the tree-filled northeast updated during the winter when the leaves are not obscuring the view, he added.

Driving directions can be enhanced to include information on construction areas and other helpful data. The service also includes enhanced printing options and an updated automatic location finder for people using Wi-Fi with laptops and tablet PCs.

"I think it's very impressive. The photography offers a higher degree of resolution and clarity than what is otherwise available from aerial or satellite photography," said Greg Sterling, managing editor at The Kelsey Group.

"There are a lot of personalization aspects to it," including the ability to add notes and create custom maps, he said.

Sterling also praised Windows Live Local's integration with MSN Messenger, which allows multiple people to simultaneously view and interact with the same map.

AOL, Google and Yahoo also have integrated mapping and local search services, but Windows Live Local will be the first of the major mapping services to offer something other than just a view from directly above, as most satellite imagery has offered.

Meanwhile, in addition to Google Local integrated map and search, the search company has Google Earth, a downloadable program that allows users to get a simulated view of flying over cities. And Amazon's A9 mapping tool displays street-level views in its service.

Microsoft plans to add street-level images in the future. However, Lawlor said neither street-level nor satellite-based aerial views provide enough visual information for people to really see where they want to go.

"Rooftops don't give you enough context," he said. "Literally, we want to digitize the real world and bring it to you on your computer."

13 comments

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Not new...
this isn't new. Google has been offering this for some time on Google Earth.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://earth.google.com/product_comparison.html" target="_newWindow">http://earth.google.com/product_comparison.html</a>
Posted by schwinn403 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
not new, you are right now new and not even google's work
gimme a break, its keyhole software rebranded as google, google has pioneered nothing here

at least MS is building there own product
Posted by mcepat (118 comments )
Link Flag
not new, you are right not new and not even google's work
gimme a break, its keyhole software rebranded as google, google has pioneered nothing here

at least MS is building there own product
Posted by mcepat (118 comments )
Link Flag
Read again
Looking at a flat overhead view mapped onto a textured surface is uhh... slightly different.. then actually having an angled view. Try out google earth yourself, and angle the view of large buildings. Then read this article again and notice "taken from low-flying planes" rather than directly overhead.
Posted by randompedia (1 comment )
Link Flag
Of course not
Nothing's new on the Internet. You've seen EVERYTHING.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
How about a link?
Not a link to a comparison of Google's own proiducts. Not a link to Google Earth, but a link to a version of Google Earth that has THIS technology.

I've never seen this on Google Earth, just satellite imagery and Keyhole viewing software rebranded with the Google logo.

That's nothing to do with these features.

Where's the link?
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Link Flag
Fact Checking Required
Google deployed these features (and more) in its Google Earth product months ago. CNET should be a bit more plugged in to what's going on in IT if they want to continue to be respected as an authoritative source.
Posted by analytical_reader (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
How about a link?
Not a link to Google Earth, but a link to a version of Google Earth that has these features.

I've never seen this on Google Earth, just satellite imagery and Keyhole viewing software rebranded with the Google logo.

That's nothing to do with these features.

Where's the link?
Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Link Flag
Yes, on YOUR part
Google earth does NOT have the same features (which, by the way, is Keyhole, not Google's creation).

How ironic for you to accuse CNET of not checking facts when YOU are the one who needs to do some reading.
Posted by (127 comments )
Link Flag
Gee... Does not work with all browsers
I suppose its not too surprising that this service does not work
with many browsers on Mac OS X. OK, you might forgive them
for not testing with Safari, but Explorer on the Mac also fails to
produce images.

Using Netscape, I just found out that I live in the middle of the
street, some 400 yards from my actual address.

Say what you will about the Google service, it works with all of
the browsers that I have tried on Windows &#38; OS X, AND it gets
my address correct.
Posted by VegasBaby (77 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wow
I am not a MS fan by any means...but local.live.com is way better then Google Maps/Earth. You dont even need to download software. Easier to pick points, history is kept and the bird's eye is also cool. Sorry Google.
Posted by BlinkMM182 (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Interesting but quirky
Finding the zoom unreliable in bird's eye view mode. Moving between "thumbnails" is not seamless.
Some examples: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ndrs.org/physicsonline/locallivecom.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.ndrs.org/physicsonline/locallivecom.htm</a>
Posted by pvogel (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Very Cool
Quite intriguing! Nice job collecting a sample of photographs. I noticed it's a physics site. Consider doing an entire page on observatories?

Cheerio!
Posted by redbird_is (2 comments )
Link Flag
 

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