have taken to the skies in a battle for aerial supremacy.
On Monday, Microsoft
introduced a preliminary online feature that combines
street maps with photographs taken from airplanes and
satellites. The product, MSN Virtual Earth, is intended
to give users more detailed driving directions and an
easier way to search for local businesses.
The release follows
Google's recent foray into aerial imagery, including
last month's preliminary introduction of a free three-dimensional
mapping service, Google Earth. After downloading some
software, users can zoom over cities and mountains like
Google, in Mountain
View, also has made aerial photographs available in
its maps area. A new hybrid button introduced Monday allows
the maps to be overlaid on satellite and airplane imagery,
similar to what is available on Microsoft's Virtual Earth.
and Microsoft's services allow users to enter search
queries by address and business type and have those locations
indicated on an aerial image. Roads and driving directions
also can be overlaid on the photographs.
are available on Microsoft's Virtual Earth to save and
share searches. Wireless Internet users can automatically
have their location plotted for them on a map based on
their proximity to wireless access points or based on
their Internet IP address.
MSN Virtual Earth
is available at virtualearth.msn.com.
Gary Price, a
librarian who is an editor for SearchEngineWatch.com,
said that the focus on aerial imagery is more of a case
of companies trying to impress users with gee-whiz technology
than anything else, at least for now. He said the feature
would be a lot more useful if users could click on an
image for data such as census information about the neighborhood
"I've been a
map geek since I was only 3 years old," Price said.
"It's cool stuff, but I don't think that seeing an
image from the air is going to make me go to a store and
Google and Microsoft
are engaged in a major battle over Internet users. Each
has unveiled a series of features designed to keep users
loyal and grab a bigger share of the lucrative search-engine
Yahoo, in Sunnyvale,
also is a major competitor, though its executives have
yet to express any interest in aerial images. Amazon.com
offers street- level photographs of businesses through
its A9.com search engine.
isn't new to the Internet. TerraServer, a Microsoft-owned
site, has been available for years, and so has another
Web site, TerraFly.
The point of aerial
images on the Internet -- in addition to the utility
for users -- is the potential for local advertising. For
example, a user who types in a search for cars while looking
at a view of the Bay Area gets a sponsored link for a
car rental company below Yellow Pages listings for different
automotive related businesses.
used by Microsoft and Google can be outdated. On Microsoft's
service, an overhead view of Apple Inc.'s headquarters
in Cupertino showed only one building instead of the sprawling
campus of 11 buildings.
Chris Warfield explained that Virtual Earth is being
released as a test and that images will be updated regularly.
Images of Cupertino, he said, come from the U.S. Geological
Survey and were taken in 1991 and 2004.
a prank or anything intentional," Warfield said.
In the fall, Microsoft
plans to make 45-degree views of some cities available
on Virtual Earth to give users a better sense of individual
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