Personal Tech: Earth angles
There's hardly any excuse for getting lost or not finding things with beefed-up mapping services on the Web. Microsoft's MSN network last week added satellite photos to its mapping and local search functions, calling the package "Virtual Earth." It comes some weeks after competitor Google released its similar, and still more powerful "Google Maps." Each makes it easy to find an address or local businesses and see the results on street maps or satellite photos--or a blending of the two.
Google's version requires you to download and install a program, and offers more for the trouble, including the ability to tilt a Google image to reveal 3D outlines of buildings in many cities--undeniably clever, and maybe useful to a bird navigating urban canyons. It also can add, among other things, school districts and city borders that might help in searching for a new home. More data can be found in Google-encouraged "mashups," where outsiders overlay their pet topic on maps and imagery. A list can be found at googlemapsmania.blogspot.com and includes a pedometer-like site that measures the distance over a given route and another that charts injuries in last month's running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
Microsoft's Virtual Earth works in any browser and has a scratch pad that makes it easy to save and E-mail multiple searches. Its business data also seem more up to date. But many of the satellite photos are older and are limited to the United States. And while Microsoft is opening its maps to outsiders, it's focusing on professionals who will likely be slower to produce offshoots.
Both Google and Microsoft say their services are in test runs, and more is to come. Yahoo company execs have said they don't think satellite images are worth the bother for their mapping site, but are adding features and are encouraging mashups. Now, if just one service could take their maps inside the home and pinpoint missing car keys.