11/08/2006

Live Maps Rock!

Microsoft came up with it's own version of "Google Earth". They call it "Virtual Earth 3D". Visuals are rich, colorful and aLIVE. Going through the streets in Las Vegas almost made me feel that I was a part of a video game!

Users can choose between the two-dimensional views, aerial or birds-eye views, and the three-dimensional interface. They can use the existing map services, such as business listings, white pages, traffic information and driving directions, on any of the interfaces. Virtual Earth 3D includes fixtures/virtual billboards that are not present in the real world. Companies can air (earth) their advertisements here. This is a new way of making the internet a visually enriching experience for the user and advertising through it. This virtual billboard functionality comes from Massive, an in-game advertising company that, in May, Microsoft said it was acquiring. Massive technology enables designers to render a graphic on top of any surface in a 3D environment.












Aerial view



Watch NewYork at a distance



Watch NewYork up close


As a user, I love a few things about it already. Virtual Earth 3D has a click wheel capability (similar to the iPod wheel) which one can use to zoom-in, zoom-out, circle around a building. I had fun going around the Pyramid in Vegas :). I looked around the New York building as you can see from the pictures. The visuals are so rich that I can almost read/see what's going on the billboards. I love the virtual billboards (inline advertising as I see it) concept, which makes me feel that internet can be used to advertise in a less jarring fashion without affecting the experience for a user. Google and YouTube must be thinking on the same lines..Advertising without annoying users.

Unfortunately, just as every silver lining has a cloud (assuming a reflexive relationship between a cloud and a silver lining), there are a few deficiencies with Virtual Earth 3D. The biggest one being that it can be used only from IE6/IE7 and on
Win XP SP2! Mozilla, Firefox, Opera, Linux, Mac users will surely be disappointed with this. Their browser integration is very good, but memory consumption is real bad. Virtual Earth 3D was running at 474MB! when I last checked my task manager. Right now, it can be used only for a few cities (around 28 I think) which is quite a small set. But again, it's just been a day. It will only get better.






Road View


Microsoft gets all it's map information from Navteq and since Google does the same, we might soon end up seeing Google Earth do something similar or even better. For now, all glory goes to Microsoft! Need more information, just go to live.com and try it out for yourself.

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