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Virtual Earth: MSN's answer to Google Maps

32 minutes, 52 seconds


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I spent some time today interviewing the Virtual Earth team. This is MSN's answer to Google Maps, coming in July 2005. As you see in the video MSN Virtual Earth goes noticeably further than Google Maps or other mapping services.

Later today we'll put the video I shot of them up on Channel 9.

Here's first look: WMV video of Virtual Earth Team. 133MB.

Also, there have been a ton of news stories about Virtual Earth. Here's some links:
News.com article on Virtual Earth.

And in 85 other articles on Google News.

This stuff is mondo cool!


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  • scobleizerscobleizer I'm the video guy
    The people you see are:

    Steve Lombardi, program manager (guy talking most of the time).
    Cody Ebberson, sitting on left side of couch, software design engineer.
    Harish Jayanti, software design engineer.
    Tom Barclay, researcher
  • Stevan VeselinovicSteve411 Me, all suited up!
    Yeeha! Here we go. Virtual Earth is a propper name for it as well.
  • TensorTensor Im in yr house upgrading yr family

    My favourite result from google maps - go to maps.google.co.uk, zoom in to an area, search for "pub" in tha map area below.

    It takes you Pueblo Memorial Airport, Colarado, USA.

    Err... I'm not sure thats in my local area...

  • leighswordleighsword LeighSword
    cool, all wrote by javascirpt,
    from http://maps.google.com/mapfiles/maps.keyhole.3.js.

    but where is china?
  • JazJaz From the depths of Wales I come
    cant wait to watch this when i get back home. Now heres a question though.Will this allow me to draw my own routes on it? 
  • JazJaz From the depths of Wales I come
    Another Question, If you added RSS feeds to areas so that you could see any changes going on i.e a bypass built
  • This is so cool, can't wait till this is launched...
  • scobleizerscobleizer I'm the video guy
    Jaz: I asked that question after the taping is off. Answer? It's on their list.
  • JazJaz From the depths of Wales I come
    which one scoble?
  • scobleizerscobleizer I'm the video guy
    Sorry, the RSS question.

    As to drawing your own routes, yes, but not sure what you mean by "drawing." I think the route builder will work just like http://mappoint.msn.com works today when showing a route between two points.
  • JazJaz From the depths of Wales I come
    Well my g/f just got a new bike and when she is coming to mine from work theres this nasty roundabout in the way that no one really likes, however there is a route that can get her to mine without using the roundabout, but i assume if you put "town to my house" in whatever map thing it would take the route with the roundabout as that is probably the best route. So i'd alike the ability to draw my own routes without having to use what the computer thinks is the best/fastest route

    So basically i'd get a map of the area and be able to draw a red line along the oute that i want and then the map program would make my line nice and neat and scale the map appropiately so that it can fit on a peice of paper or maybe synch it to a PDA and GPS facility.
  • This, indee, is taking mapping to a much higher level. Keep up the good work guys.

    Can't wait to see it all done Smiley
  • figuerresfiguerres ???
    I have to wonder about how this could work with / broow from / overlap with / help build

    World WInd  -- the NASA free "Virtual Earth" that runs on windows PC's

    they both for example use USGS data.
  • fatboy_aufatboy_au itnewslog.​com
    This looks awesome! Great work guys. Cant waul.
  • No credit to the TerraServer?

    With Longhorn's 3dUI this is going to be really cool!
  • MinhMinh WOOH!  WOOH!
    Did you post this to the wrong forum, Scoble? I want to Eagle-Eye zoom on a wheat field in Iowa, is that going to be possible? Also, will VirtualEarth be less of a product & more like a platform? Like what WorldWind can do? It lets 3rd party write add-ons that place things on top of a 3D earth. Will the same be availabe on VirtualEarth?
  • Whatever happened to TerraServer? Seems like Microsoft had been sitting on that tremendous resource for like 10 years now. Anyway, glad to see it's being utilized with Virtual Earth.
  • KossoKosso PodbatGuy
    This looks GREAT!! Can't wait for a launch! I've been recently hacking away at that 'other' map service Wink - I hope we can 'do' custom stuff with Virtual Earth too!

    Will there be a smaller version of the video up soon? I'd like to share this with some of the guys on the this side of the pond Wink [uk]

  • ScanIAmScanIAm This is an...
    Still downloading the video, but I was wondering if this might push the MSFT stock up in the Google range Smiley
  • If you want to get your hands on something similar that doesn't cost a penny (unlike Keyhole) head on over to the Nasa Whirl Wind Project website.

    I just downloaded it last night and its very nice. This .net program features 3D terrain, various types of satellite imagery, and you can even watch animated events occur (volcanic eruptions, forest fires, etc.).
  • That's an excellent interview! Excellent questions!

  • SimoSimo With me it's a full-time job.
    looks good. ok understatement - looks really cool. Love the hybrid view.

    But that name is going to come back and bite if you don't get 90-95% of your average internet browsers' countries in there.
  • moofishmoofish Living in Scotland, UK
    Firstly I'd like to know if it is possible for the map to relay information like 'the parking lot is full, or has “3 spaces left” and then ask if I would like to reserve one  via mobile/wireless payment

    Also how will local small businesses or groups plug into this map, its all very well that the big guys get a look in but what about art galleries that just set up shop, or voluntary groups that have meetings on such and such a date, even festivals
    Does the map change to different modes i.e. spring time the autumn leaves falling off, or evening when the building lights are on and things are dark, celebrations with lights up and what about disasters like freak floods. Can the map be altered for this?
    Eagle eye mode seems good, but what about when a new building is made, how will Microsoft incorporate or even become aware of a change in the landscape
    My main concern is the emphasis on ‘exploring the environment”, that’s okay for today but many on holiday like to know the history of an area. It would be a shame to have a one size fits all approach that the USA map has at present, as the US does not have much history, history is worth exploring and other countries have much that this kind of web app could exploit
    So when these guys get round to doing maps of, well just about every other region of the earth from the EU countries and Russia to the far east with the oriental continents and Arabian Emirates; they all have a lot of history with stories attached to them.
    I would like to see a mode called 'history mode' that allows the person exploring to read up on the history of the area they are looking at: e.g. this are used to be grass land (an option alters the model to show how it was) the locals used to work in mills where their produce was exported to such and such country (and have links to other areas of the globe of that period and then show what that industry is today) I can see some kind of tie in with Encarta.
    People willing to explore sections of an area would give time to read its history, if a counter was used say (in time machine mode) it would change much of the landscape to grass and trees and then show areas that today sell locally made jams or cheeses, or printing firms that still have links back to that period.
    These are my immediate feelings on what the map could mean to me and others, allowing them to follow trails such I did from a book touring round the battle scarred boarders between Scotland and England (UK) where there are many Heritage Trees dating back several hundred and even a thousand or more years. Some thing like this plotted out would be great, I would like to have blogged my experiences and meet other interested in the same things.

    P.S. I feel sorry for these guys, they all seem to have big bags under their eyes.
  • Although having different photos for seasons and times etc would be good, that's an awful lot of images to get.

    The history idea sounds fantastic.

    Shame it could be a while to get UK arial/satellite shots, I think the only lot done have been commerical (and pretty expensive).
  • Very nice stuff!  Please give these items some thought as well:
    1) Try to have a good print view.  I know it's not always easy when you're dealing with AJAX/JS development. 
    2) If you could add construction data...
    3) Also, if there's some type of API that could be available, that would be great!

  • They said they may be working to get it in Firefox, but it certainly "looked" like an IE-only web app. Also, if it works in Safari, you'll get a lot more early adopters (must cite Doc Searls on that point) But just to restate that Firefox support is essential -- really awesome demo though. Thanks Scoble!
  • JazJaz From the depths of Wales I come
    I was thinking about intergration and routes.

    My dads in chicago, he's staying i dunno at a ramada or something and he wants to goto one of the big malls out of town.  SO he has a Dell Axim and makes a route on MSN maps and saves it,  it then offers an RSS feed which he can subcribe too.  When he subscribes o it, he starts getting information about traffic conditions and other various things so that before he sets off on his adventure he knows that 4th and 8th street just had a glue lorry tip over and it's taking a long time to get cars moving past there, thus the map can offer a new route.

    scoble, basically bring a notepad to london meet (a big notepad and lots of Jones Cream Soda)

  • TensorTensor Im in yr house upgrading yr family
    daSmirnov wrote:
    Shame it could be a while to get UK arial/satellite shots, I think the only lot done have been commerical (and pretty expensive).

    I think you would be suprised. World wind uses Landsat 7 data which goes down to 1 pixel / 15 metres resolution for the entire surface of the earth. I believe there are arial photographs of the entire UK freely avaible from a top-down perspective to greater res than that. The 45% angle images would be a different issue, but you could not get those for the entire US anyway, and you certainly would not get them all for the entire UK either.

    I know it has been mentioned before in this thread but I would urge anyone intrested in this stuff to check out World wind. Its an educational tool rather than a geographical search engine, but it is super cool.

    Re the video - the smooth zooming is to me the coolest thing. Thats some amazing Javascript!
  • moofishmoofish Living in Scotland, UK
    How does that 45 angle work, form what nauticle direction is the camera facing. Is it flexible enough to pan 360deg round the building? How could it be justified to capture the best face of one building at the sacrafice of another?
  • HarlequinHarlequin http:/​/​twitter.​com/True​Harlequin
    ScanIAm wrote:
    Still downloading the video, but I was wondering if this might push the MSFT stock up in the Google range

    Microsoft already has been in the "Google range", several times. Then they do a stock split.
  • Looks cool! But there are two things that must be there to be useful for me: 1) It must have map of my country (Latvia). 2) It must work with Opera browser (I hope it will, Google Maps works now Smiley).
  • The alternate browser support is awesome, for other Microsoft sites like www.msn.com doesnt' look as great in firefox as it does in IE. I think that is wonderful that other browsers are supported!
  • AP1AP1
    This is good and timely.  I am glad to MSFT come back and compete with Google-Keyhole with Virtual Earth.  It is also nice to see MapPoint and TerraServer assets combined into this.  I am thinking X-BOX, MSFT Flight-SIM, Win-64 applications, true distribution.

    With Pictometry, a very hot little company now, the 45 degree angle thing is cool, but it will be hard to compete with Google Earth and Keyhole application for panning and zooming at various angles.  The ideal would be a combination of Pictometry and the true-fly-through capabilities of Keyhole - skyline-esque approach.

    Search the world.  The key difference, on a contrary point, is the price-point.  MSN Virtual Earth will be free and Google Earth will be $30.00 for Keyhole client. 

    Also, note - think about right-click save as, and how to get geospatial intelligence out from system, and packaged, and sent around.  Also, think about digital to analog transforms.

    Congrats to the MapPoint Team for matching such an impact.

    Well done with WSJ by the way - well orchestrated from interview with BIll, pre-hype on Virtual Earth, and then announcement, and pre-release.  Interesting to see Barclay involved.  I was wondering when he would be involved.

    Nice job to Pictometry for getting this win.  Huge for them.
  • niknik nik
    so in other words, Microsoft have been sitting on terraserver for 10 years, and couldnt work out what to do with it until Google released Google maps. I am waiting for innovative web apps, not follow the leader.
  • niknik nik
    ok, i take back some part of that scepticism after seeing the overlay view, as well as the navigation..  these guys have done a good job, I just think it should have been done a lot earlier. Ajax is only new as a term, as a technology is has been around for years..
  • WilWil Wil
    It should be interesting to see whether users can develop GIS-like client-side apps for Virtual Earth and for the Google Maps / Keyhole product, without having a "real" GIS, by using only AJAX.  If that is possible, it must be painful for MS to watch, given that for years now (ever since the Netscape wars) the mantra there has been "Windows good, browser bad".  That's why IE has been stagnant, with just one security Band-aid after another applied to it, instead of being completely re-worked, as so many users wanted.  The philosophy of MS has been "rich clients" (and hence "rich MS"!) requiring Windows, Active X (or now .NET), etc., not browser-hosted scripts.  After all, if your apps run in Firefox, who cares about the OS?
  • How does it compare with NASA's WorldWind....

    WorldWind runs circles around Keyhole viewer (Google) on my desktop....

    I especially like the ability to switch instantly between photo and topological maps.... I can see a terrain item I'm interested in and then switch (if I'm looking at the US) to a USGS map with roads, navigational aids (if in coastal waters, etc.)

    Extremely responsive with 3D graphics support... dog on old systems with limited graphics accellerators.
  • nik wrote:
    ok, i take back some part of that scepticism after seeing the overlay view, as well as the navigation..  these guys have done a good job, I just think it should have been done a lot earlier. Ajax is only new as a term, as a technology is has been around for years..

    Do keep in mind that Microsoft has excelled at working on the OS and on-built APIs that enable a whole bunch of developers to exercise their creativity in many different directions.  By the way, Google Maps would not have been nearly as cool without XMLHTTP, which first appeared in IE 5+ and was coopted by Mozilla and put inside Firefox.  The AJAX technology is in fact quite simple in ASP.NET, as has been demonstrated here:

    Google really has it easy, when they can simply customize a Linux distro (for them, OSS == free capital upon which to innovate) for their thousands of servers.  And then they can build on top of the XMLHTTP framework that MS has put out years ago.  And these "amazing" projects are simply some guy's 20% time contribution that percolated to the top.  But they definitely ramp up the expectation with regard to simplicity and performance, which is a good thing for everyone.
  • rrakkarrakka DYNAMITE
    This work is really great and creative.
    I have some suggestions, i dont know if this has been thought of.

    I may not be a full time user of mappoint/streetsand trips sw, as i may wish to go out on weekends only. so ideally speaking i may end up using the sw i buy for what about 60 days an year.

    If i'm a web user for suppose mappoint and not bought the mappoint sw, i should be able to zoom in and save the maps into my laptop as jpeg images so that i can use them offline.
  • moofishmoofish Living in Scotland, UK
    I was just reading this news about Network conjestion information built into Google's map. I this this is great, I would like to see plug-ins so that if I wanted to see all of the wireless networks available then I could install the plugin and voila! I am especially interested in the history side of countrys and its regions, this would also be an excellent plug-in to have.

    Also my last question still stands:

    "How does that 45 angle work, form what nauticle direction is the camera facing. Is it flexible enough to pan 360deg round the building? How could it be justified to capture the best face of one building at the sacrafice of another?"

    Can anyone help?

  • MasterPieMasterPi Back to where it all started
    You hear that MS! Do this and you'll make Beer28 happy. Smiley

  • yyyyyy Developer

    This service is said to be launched in early July and it's already the middle of that month - has it already been launched? Is it open for public testing? If yes, can somebody post a link to the service?

  • Luciano Evaristo GuercheguercheLE guerchele
    I have been visiting http://www.virtualearth.com everyday, but it hasn't taken off so far. Does somebody out there might give me a clue on Virtual Earth's due date? Shouldn't this information be on Virtual Earth's web site?
  • yyyyyy Developer
    Wow, thanks - I couldn't find this site in Google. I guess there's still no official due date. And I thought it'll be avilable for testing already...
  • scobleizerscobleizer I'm the video guy
    yyy: I talked with the Virtual Earth team today. Soon, soon. As soon as it's up, I'll post something on the home page of Channel 9.
  • yyyyyy Developer
    Great Smiley Thanks a lot !
  • VIRTUAL EARTH MUST INCLUDE ALL SIGHTS WHERE CHANNEL 9 GUY HAS BEEN SPOTTED OR PHOTOGRAPHED BEFORE GOING LIVE. (I think the little guy is gonna be on the space shuttle soon, so these guys better get live yesterday... )


  • Is this ever going to work with Safari? At the moment it doesn't work. It's slow, contains errors and what does work is unresponsive. All this is seriously hyped and it doesn't even work. Check out the following site on how to do something that works across most browsers and operating systems: http://maps.google.com/ Seriously, if MS are going to release public items like this on to the internet, maybe there should be a sub-domain on the internet where MS/IE only stuff can be found. Other agnostic and standard friendly web sites can live in the rest of the web.
  • Nata1Nata1 .Search - Google Appliance killer
    Its here!

    It works great in firefox, but I doubt safari integration is done yet
  • So far, I have found that Virtual Earth works well in Mozilla Firefox Version 1.0.2 running on my Mandrake Linux LE 10.2 box.

    I tried it on Konqueror and it crashed.

    Internet Explorer on Windows XP worked without any software issues but it sure is slow. I noticed the tiles not loading as I was zooming in or panning. It was pretty annoying to tell you the truth.

    Google Maps can drill in a bit further than Virtual Earth can. Once you get to a certain point (below 150 yards) I get a picture of a camera with a slash through it indicating that I have zoomed to far. Google will let you zoom in as far as you can and still display images albeit blurry.

    I don't think Microsoft has quite done it yet in terms of beating Google. I think they are definitely in the neighborhood though, but the UI is a tad clunky. Google is much simpler to use.

    I am also a subscriber to Google Earth so I can tell you with pretty good accuracy that it is far more superior than Virtual Earth. Microsoft might want to consider that rich client after all if they intend to compete. Also, why bother with such limited data? Get the whole friggin world out there already. They bragged about the fact that they have been working with cartography for 10+ years but they come out with the US only? Someone is asleep at the wheel.

    My main complaint right now is the clunky UI and the speed. did anyone notice that there is a limit on the scratch pad? I got an error saying that I had reached my maximum number of scratch pad entries. I think I only had 4 or 5. Anyone hear of a scroll bar? lol

    Microsoft has done a pretty good job of reverse engineering what Google has done but they are not there yet. I say give it 6 months to a year before we see significant improvements. I hope to see those other features talked about in the taped interview soon.

  •  Ah ha," Virtual Earth" is so wonderful!Tongue Out
  • hi there
  • i pimp ur (I need to watch my language) last night  
  • well MSN acquired GeoTango on Christmas eve. GeoTango was owned by my GIS prof , Vincent Tao - a brilliant prof and entrepreneur. GeoTango had many patent algo like :

    SilverEye, allows the rapid creation of 3D urban models from a single image.
    Smart Digitizer is essentially a stand-alone tool for building GIS features: roads, rivers, hydrants, etc.

    GlobeView has the ability to access data from a number of sources including servers supporting the Web Map Service Specification (WMS) from the Open Geospatial Consortium and Microsoft's own TerraServer.

    So there is some competition with Google Earth in future.

    As for my Prof, he is on leave (sabbastical) & having good vacation somewhere out there.Big Smile
  • Do you think Microsoft virtual earth will ever be able to compete with Google's service?

    Especially with them both being huge companies, and am I correct to assume Google has had more time to allow for growth than Microsoft!?

  • hi Smiley cool

  • Sammy LongarmsKittyNull LongArms
    Steve Lombardi is so hot, I want to call him Poodle and pet him somewhere low.

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