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There are so many posts to comment on and things to respond to, but I am, for some reason, choosing to use my precious free time to talk about something else instead. You see, Microsoft has just introduced its version of Google Maps, called Virtual Earth.

Can you guess where this is going? Well, as if the headline didn’t give it away or anything.

Once again, Microsoft has taken something done very well by someone else and made it worse. From the functionality to the interface, Virtual Earth is a ham-fisted tragedy while Google Maps is a useful, good-looking tool. I was going to provide links as examples to bolster the following points, but Virtual Earth can’t even do links correctly. A search for my old apartment in Boston got stuck in the link cache, even through the wildly different searches that followed. Then my local Pavilions store got stuck there. So forget the links. You’ll have to experiment yourself.

The only thing so far for which I would credit Virtual Earth is its sometimes high-res satellite images. I can zoom in very close to my apartment building, almost to where I can see my satellite dish (I know it’s there, but I can’t quite make it out!). But this level of zoom is spotty, and… Well, why not simply provide some details for your comparison pleasure?


Virtual Earth: Much of the satellite images for big cities are black and white. Some are very old.

Google Maps: Lots of color! More modernity! Groovy!


Virtual Earth: Streets and highways with names. Oh, and directional arrows (one way, etc.).

Google Maps: Streets and highways with more complete directional arrows and accurate on and off ramps!


Virtual Earth: Two different input boxes, one for What (businesses, points of interest, etc.) and one for Where (specific addresses).

Google Maps: One input box for any search you want to conduct.


Virtual Earth: Simply drag your cursor in the map to move it arou… OOPS! Oh, but don’t go off the page or into the annoying results overlay boxes or… Well, now your cursor’s stuck in move mode. Bummer, huh?

Google Maps: Simply drag you cursor in the map to move it around. Even go off the page if you want. The map will move no matter what.


Virtual Earth: The zoom slider is sticky. Drag your cursor over it and the slider drags whether you want it to or not. Sometimes. But the slider doesn’t work very well, so maybe you’ll be lucky and the sticky won’t stick.

Google Maps: The zoom slider slides when you click and drag it.


Virtual Earth: Handy (read: annoying) overlay boxes that store your past searches (a box per search) and another that is your “scratch pad.” These boxes pop up over the map itself, obstructing a good portion of it. Oh, and see the convenient X icon you can use to close each box? X stands for “good luck,” since there’s no guarantee clicking the X will, in fact, close the box.

Google Maps: Google search results are kept apart from the map. No need to close them to get them out of the way.


Virtual Earth: As you zoom in on the map, your list of search results is changed to reflect only what’s within the zoomed area. So if you’re looking for marker #7, good luck. It has probably changed to #3 or #4 or #1 or has vanished altogether.

Google Maps: The search results stay put so you can always get to them.


Virtual Earth: Double-click on a map marker to re-center the map to… uh, to… okay, to select the text in the marker. Oh, no, I was right. To center it. Maybe. Unless it selects the marker text. Huh. Good luck.

Google Maps: Double-click a map marker to re-center the map to that marker. For sure. Without fail.


Virtual Earth: Freeway and road icons, text overlays, markers, marker info boxes, and everything else designed by Pete Pixel of ASCII Pixel Graffix House.

Google Maps: Freeway and road icons, text overlays, markers, marker info boxes, and everything else designed by a designer.


Virtual Earth: Type “pavilions los angeles” into the What box (not the Where box) and get a useful “No results found.” Oh, but if I zoom out, it did find some results. Oh.

Google Maps: Type “pavilions los angeles” into the one input box and get a list of results with a map of the area you specified.


Virtual Earth: Type “dorothy and bundy 90049” and get, er, Los Angeles.

Google Maps: Type “dorothy and bundy 90049” and get a marker at the intersection of W. Dorothy St. and S. Bundy Dr. (Though Google does not know the significance of this block of Brentwood, extra credit to anyone who does.)


Virtual Earth: Type “11838 darlington ave 90049 to 3800 w alameda ave 91505” and get, er, Burbank. Hmm. To get driving directions, Virtual Earth tells you how: 1) Display the pop-up for a location by pointing to the pushpin for the listing you want. 2) Click Drive To or Drive From. MSN Maps & Directions opens in a new browser window with the location you chose already specified as either the beginning or the end point of the route. 3) Type or paste an address for the opposite end of the route. 4) Click Get Directions. Why, that’s EASY!

Google Maps: Type “11838 darlington ave 90049 to 3800 w alameda ave 91505” and get accurate driving directions and a map. Double-click the departure or arrival markers on the map to get a small local map pop-up. Map route includes which on and off ramps to take, even.


Virtual Earth: More info on more parts of the world. But don’t try to zoom in too much. You’ll only get so far. Oh, and type “piccadilly circus, london, uk” in either search box and get a “no results found” error.

Google Maps: Set up specifically for the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Japan. Yet while there are no name labels for other parts of the world, go ahead and zoom in. You can get great images of Baghdad or Brussels! Type “piccadilly circus, london, uk” and get a marker at Piccadilly Circus, London, UK.


Virtual Earth: But it’s only in beta. It’s bound to suck.

Google Maps: But it’s only in beta and has been amazing from day one.


Lucy, the Wonder Dog Expounded Thusly:

Re: Point 11 —


Wednesday, July 27th, 2005 • 6:18pm • Permalink

Steve Expounded Thusly:

Good to know the dogs are on top of pop culture, as always. Good girl!

Thursday, July 28th, 2005 • 1:00pm • Permalink


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