Monday, July 25th 2005

First Look at MSN Virtual Earth

Microsoft just launched its Virtual Earth map service. It’s pretty useful, at least for the US. Parts of the US (no idea how large a part) are zoomable to a much higher degree than with Google Maps. Also, the coolness factor is way higher for Microsoft’s service, thanks to the use of semitransparent boxes on top of the map, scroll-wheel zooming and a nifty little compass which can be used for auto-scroll type scrolling.

I did notice today though, while playing around, that Google Maps automatically resizes the map area to fit the browser window. This has maybe been the case for a long time, but I hadn’t noticed until today. Nifty.

The main advantages I see with MSN Virtual Earth over Google Maps are these:

  1. Easier navigation: Mouse-wheel scrolling and double-click center & zoom. Having to reach for the zoom-slider with Google Maps (or moving one hand to + and – on the keyboard) feels clunky. I’m simply presuming Google will be adding these features in the not-too-distant future.
  2. More intuitive local search: If you zoom in on an area with Google Maps, then do a local search for, say, Internet cafes, it will first zoom out one notch before showing you the results. I’m sure this is supposed to be helpful in some way, but I mostly find it annoying. Secondly, if you then scroll away from your search results, Google won’t automatically give you the corresponding results for the new area you’re looking at. Virtual Earth does just that, which to me seems like the more intuitive (& useful) thing to do.
  3. Full screen map: Having the whole screen width filled with the map is sleek, and makes maximum use of the users pixels. It looks good too.

Google’s hybrid mode is (IMO) a little clearer than Virtual Earth’s labeled aerial photos. Also, when zooming in on the UK, London still isn’t visible at this level. Rather strange, seeing that places such as Weymouth (never even heard of it) are.

Another minor slipup is that the blue search area at the top isn’t semi-transparent when using Firefox. (It is in IE.) Checking the source code, it seems like all they would have to add to fix this is opacity: 0.90 for the ID #search_bg. This is the current CSS for the search box area:

#search_bg {position: absolute; height: 73px; top: 0px; left: 0px; width: 100%; background: rgb(39,101,171) url(i/header_bg.png) repeat-y center; overflow: hidden; filter: alpha(opacity=90); z-index:31; border-bottom: solid 1px black;}

All in all, though, Microsoft have produced a pretty good mapping service, and when it covers a larger part of the world, maybe even us Swedes can have some real use for it.

Edit: I never thought I would be giving Microsoft free PR on my blog, but I guess the times are a-changing.

No Responses to this post:

  1. jer says:

    There is a greasemonkey script to enable the scroll wheel zooming on gmap, but you’ll have to search for it yourself cuz I never installed it and have no idea where I found it 😉

  2. David Naylor says:

    Yeah, I used that for a while but now I’m using Deer Park Alpha 2, and Greasemonkey isn’t compatible with this version yet. All the same, I think it should be available without any extra effort from the users side.

  3. jer says:

    Oh, I agree, I wasn’t trying to suggest that 3rd party add-ons make up for missing features.Also, could you please do away with your ‘are you really REALLY sure you want to go away from this page’ javascript? with sugar on top?

  4. David Naylor says:

    What are you talking about? Do I have one of those?

  5. David Naylor says:

    You mean the box that warns you if you’ve written stuff that you haven’t posted? I’m sorry, but I can’t control that. It’s part of the system.

  6. jer says:

    It doesn’t just warn if you’ve written stuff, its a different message if you haven’t. Oh well, couldn’t hurt to ask I guess. I’ll have to remember that should I ever consider using blogger.