Microsoft has its eyes in the sky. At Monday's "D" conference in California Microsoft founder Bill Gates introduced MSN Virtual Earth, a new component of the company's rapidly expanding collection of search technologies.
The new service emphasizes aerial photography in conjunction with overlays of businesses and other kinds of locations for what is being dubbed, "an immersive search experience."
According to one example provided by company officials, a user who is buying a house might want to look at traffic and weather patterns around the area for the past year. And the user might also want to find nearby dry cleaners and restaurants. MSN Virtual Earth would begin with an aerial view of the location on one map, with layers of businesses, relevant links, and other information overlaid on top of it.
In another example, a screen shows multiple searches stacked on the left. Advertisers' links are shown under the search results, while an opened balloon offers details relevant to the location displayed. The information is all overlaid on a hybrid map, with streets, parks, and other points of interest labeled on the aerial imagery.
Although Microsoft has not released the full feature set for MSN Virtual Earth, these are the known components:
· Imagery—satellite maps and 45-degree-angle views of buildings and neighborhoods;
· Hybrid Maps—street maps overlaid over satellite maps;
· Full-bleed Map Views—nearly full screen maps that users interact with;
· Scratch Pad—an online clipboard for customers to perform multiple searches and plan their activities.
The first release of MSN Virtual Earth should be available sometime this summer.
At first glance, the technology looks to be similar to Google Maps, which lets you view satellite imagery of any location. Google acquired Keyhole late last year, which maintains a huge database of aerial images. Now, both Microsoft and Google appear to be focused on overlaying business and other location-based information on aerial photography.
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