Windows Live Local, Next Version of Microsoft Virtual Earth Announced

By Joe Francica

Windows Live Local Today, Microsoft announced its next version of Virtual Earth which undergoes a name change to Windows Live Local powered by Virtual Earth.Virtual Earth is now the name of the mapping platform that will in time power MapPoint Web Services and the company's consumer mapping products.Live Local contains the "birds eye" imagery provided by Pictometry, enhanced directions tools and new customization options. Windows Live Local, is the next iteration of Microsoft's "search and immersive" framework, first released in July of this year.

Features of Windows Live Local
Pictometry oblique imagery. The imagery database is complete for about 25% of the U.S.population. The imagery provides an improvement over current views with resolution as high as 6-inches along with oblique "bird's eye" views.In the Windows Live Local map window, a separate view window shows the nine image views that can be displayed in the main map window.If available, the bird's eye view will show the four different compass directions. The separate view window depicts an area that is approximately 1 mile square.Microsoft uses its software to browse imagery; not Pictometry's.Orbimage's satellite imagery and Aerials Express' aerial photography is integrated with this version, and as before, the vintage of the imagery varies by location.To facilitate imagery updates, Microsoft has created an imagery pipeline with providers so that as newer imagery is captured, the data can be slipstreamed into the product.

Enhanced directions.A Microsoft says it has emphasized providing "best of breed" driving directions and to be sure "not to mimic of what's on the market," says Tom Bailey, Marketing and Product Manager for the MapPoint Group.Among the enhancements are the ability ask for routing from a point selected from the screen "" say a parking lot "" instead of a geocoded address and the ability to control printing of directions.

A focus on customization. Users can create custom push pins, with annotation, unique map views, and can share these views with others via a Permalink.

Other Enhancements
This new version includes and enhanced version the "Locate me" function available since the roll out in July.It provides a Wi-Fi user the ability to immediately identify their location by using a triangulation method based on known 802.11 access points.Microsoft will not release the name of the company with whom they are dealing for the access point data.Tom Bailey, Director of Marketing for MSN explained that Virtual Earth uses internally developed software to complete the location determination of users.

Other features include improvements to the "scratch pad" to place customized "push pins" to keep notes or query for driving directions. This is not necessarily a new feature but some additional functionality has been added such as multiple searches within a single view window. The Amacai Yellow Page directory is also integrated as well.

Eventually, Microsoft will migrate MapPoint Web Services and its consumer products to the Virtual Earth platform.Virtual Earth is the preferred brand going forward (expect to see more "powered by Virtual Earth" logos) but in general, the company is putting more marketing effort for building on the Windows brand, which it claims is one of the top three brands in the world.

Bailey also said that his Virtual Earth team will be looking at how to develop these same "immersive search" tools for mobile devices and expects to see the same local search tools for these devices sometime in Spring 2006.An internal project named "Caravel" is looking at how to bring to market a Windows mobile device with local search.

The Virtual Earth API and licensing remain the same previously announced.Of interest to developers: the Pictometry imagery is available through the API.And, a third party website for developer will continue to be supported by Microsoft but expect to see an Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN) website for the Virtual Earth platform to be unveiled soon.

Microsoft wants to see Windows Live Local, in time, become a community oriented website for users to add and update their personal content and share it with others.

Published Friday, December 9th, 2005

Written by Joe Francica

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