Lots of Virtual Earth and Silverlight Development Outside of Microsoft

image I’m seeing lots of Virtual Earth integration in Silverlight light. And, I have to say I LOVE IT. Today is no exception. IDV Solutions just launched their Silverlight Map Viewer which is their new interface for their Visual Fusion Server product. This is a big move for IDV as most of their stack is Microsoft technology and the Flash interface was one of the remaining artifacts in moving to a complete Microsoft stack. What else? How about Soul Solutions who published Deep Earth on CodePlex? Deep Earth is an open source community project that combines the interactive experience in Silverlight 2 Deep Zoom with photo tiles from Virtual Earth. This actually featured on Channel 9 – “DeepEarth: Virtual Earth using Silverlight Deep Zoom.” IS Consulting makers of MapDotNet have their own MapDotNet Silverlight interface for Virtual Earth and GIS data, as well. Infusion Development has invested quite a bit of time in Virtual Earth (as you may have noticed in the Virtual Earth Developer Forums) and has developed a few applications already using Silverlight.

I get posed the question all the time, “Chris, when is Microsoft going to release the Microsoft Virtual Earth Silverlight Control?” At this point, I’m not sure we have to! Silverlight and some undocumented / unsupported functionality from Virtual Earth make for some powerful applications from our development community. Oh, it’s the “undocumented/unsupported” piece that makes you nervous? Well, let me take care of that; however, I’m starting to think that maybe I recommend backing off the product group’s investment in Silverlight and Virtual Earth. Thoughts?

CP

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16 comments
  1. Anonymous

    A few questions. First, does the recognition of the DeepEarth project mean it is ok to just use the tiles like that from the ortho servers? Second, why would Microsoft not want to distribute a fully supported VE control for Silverlight? While I am all for people developing their own creations, going to a customer and saying "oh, we are using Jack Smiths Ultra VE Control for that" would make most of our customers a little uneasy. If it is Microsoft’s intention to just let the community fill this void, then I guess we are back to square one and developing in house solutions for this problem. One other concern, a casual developer will find implementing some of the basic VE features a monumental task, for example, kml support, shapes, driving directions, etc.

  2. Chris Pendleton

    Good questions….

    1. The acknowledgement of Deep Zoom is just that, acknowledgement. Soul Solutions has done some good work with Virtual Earth and integration with other UX is becoming ever important. It’s not supported to hit the tile server directly, but if you do you need to track your transactions. To do that, you need an account. Direct tile access without an account is a violation of the terms of use.

    2. Having a Silverlight control come from Microsoft for simple piece of mind, IMHO, isn’t worth taking the time to build it. If we document and support the accessing of our tiles that ISVs can take our tiles and make cool new experiences with why not pass the experience to the developer? My fear is that if we release a Silverlight control and not a Flash control we’ll have a "Microsoft Only" connotation associated with our brand. Plus, what about WPF? Java Swing? Or, whatever else is set to release in the next couple years? If we can build a solid platform that will support any UX I’m thinking it would be far more valuable than trying to create a number of different controls, not to mention update and manage all of them. At the end of the day, most people want what you refer to as a house solution anyway.

    CP

  3. Anonymous

    Chris,

    I think a supported control is essential. It worries me that you’re suggesting it’s not important. We’ve been hanging for 6 months salivating over all the faint references to WPF and Silverlight Virtual Earth Controls that might be coming. We have some projects that are just waiting for these to be announced. For us the JavaScript approach is not powerful enough and the various hacks (embedding Javascript in a WPF app, contacting the tile server directly etc.) are just too risky. We want to spend our time developing solutions we know will work and writing code in the domains that we know. Here’s the number one reason you should have these controls.

    1. Google have a Flash API for Google Maps.

    I think Virtual Earth is a much more powerful and impressive platform. I’d like to use it. But if you don’t provide the tools then we’ll implement it in Flash and Google Maps.

    Hope this helps to persuade you.

  4. Anonymous

    Thanks Chris for the plug. The project is very new and the now 10 developers from all around the world are busily creating all sorts of rich functionality in native Silverlight2 (XAML and C#). For those that look today and don’t see what they want please do check back for our first release.

    I believe that in order to provide maximum flexibility and let developers truely innovate ontop of Virtual Earth Microsoft needs to provide the most basic of services, rich imagery and proper data webservices. That said most developers are going to want a reference project that does all the ground work for them. I’m hoping DeepEarth can help with that.

    I will be restructuring the code this weekend and making it more clear that it is not supported to use VE tiles directly, you need to contact VE licensing to do this.

  5. Anonymous

    Chris,

    I agree with cob999′s sentiments.  A Silverlight/DeepZoom/Virtual Earth component is a killer app. If you "get posed the question all the time" isn’t that a pretty good indication that MS customers=developers really want one?

    The "piece of mind" of having the control come from MS (with MS testing and documentation) is hugely valuable!  If I wanted to spend lots of time=$ to learn and vet software components from unfamiliar open-source (or even commercial) sources I’d be a Linux developer ;).

    (I’m not trying to dis the DeepEarth or other efforts at all.  I’m following their progress with great interest and will even contribute – if I can find the time=$.)

    Having a nice, new, clean SOAP API will be a great step forward.

    My $0.025.

    Zac Morris

  6. Anonymous

    We’re going to have fully supported WPF and Silverlight map controls that support Virtual Earth on the market very soon.  We’ve got some unreal demos already, and several ‘real live’ customer solutions in development as we speak.

    I am quite glad to see you suggest, Chris, that Microsoft will consider what the VE partners are offering when planning what tools it will provide.  Otherwise, it would be difficult for us that endeavor to offer companion and compatible products for fear of being overshadowed.  

    This is a discussion we’ve been having with our partner manager, and have looked for ways to open the discussion up.  Now that you have done that for us Chris, soon after your announcement regarding the legal and direct access to VE tiles, you are in an important position to help the VE partner community substantially.  I’d like to see this discussion continue, it isn’t restricted to Silverlight support, and I’d like to offer my assistance in coordinating with other VE partners to make sure that we can all continue to offer companion products in the future.  Let me know what I can do Chris!  We’d all hate to see Microsoft waste valuable resources on duplicative efforts. :-]

  7. Anonymous

    My opinion is that not having an "official" Silverlight control backed by Microsoft will lead to a fragmentation of the developper community over third party/open source solutions.

    I think the community is not large enough to gain from such a fragmentation.

    Having a more service oriented Virtual Earth would be great but it should not come at the expense of a full fledged SL control that can do at launch at least what the VE javascript control is doing today.

    SL2 beta 2 has enhanced compatibility and is largely a subset of WPF. It is very feasable to develop a control that would run in SL and on WPF as well using a single code base. That’s a main selling point of SL.

    About a Flash VE control, let the Flash community take care of it if they feel the need. But since they already have their Flash control for the Google Map API, backed by Google themself, I doubt it.

    Swing? Give me a break.

    Frankly, the fear that you’ll have a "Microsoft Only" connotation associated with VE if you don’t provide  a control for every API on the market sounds like a lame argument. Nor Microsoft or Google or any other I know in the GIS industry has ever commit to support every single current or future API. Google, your main competitor for instance, has cleary made his mind: Adobe Flex/Flash API.

    RIA is going to take web development by storm and we were convince that it was a priority at Microsoft to pair SL with VE in order to leverage those two natural fit.

    An open source project on CodePlex is great but I think that MS should involve into the architectural process and assign some full time developers to it. A  complette and useful control imply much more than tile navigation and have some very complex task to be overcome.

    Maybe a project backed by MS like the AJAX Control Toolkit for Asp.Net could do the trick. Maybe.

    And what about your Live Search site? Are you going to stick with javascript for a while? Then, it is going to look pale in comparaison when Google launch their "My Maps" powered by Flex.

    Or are you thinking of a SL powered Live Search but with no SDK? Is that it? Much like the shape editing feature available on Live Search today but that has never made it to the developer community?

    After more than 3 months of complete silence following your presentation at Mix 2008, this is not the kind of post about the SL control we were expecting, to say the least.

    Very disapointing and confusing I must say…

  8. Anonymous

    Chris,

    Thanks for the reply. I don’t agree with your thoughts in your comment at all. The reason there are quite a few of these silverlight/wpf controls popping up is because Microsoft has yet to release a product. Just because you develop a Silverlight control for VE does not mean you are excluding other languages, or that it is Microsoft only. Sure, the Silverlight control itself would be Microsoft only, but other companies are free to develop controls for their platform, no? Since Silverlight and WPF controls are supposed to be interchangeable, only one control should be necessary. Without a fully supported product from Microsoft, I don’t see VE maturing. Imagine if you didn’t provide the web control for VE, how many applications do you think would be out there? As a developer, I don’t want to have to think about what projection the tiles are in or what the lat/lon is in x,y space. Why should I care about that when the end goal would possibly be to show some points and maybe driving directions? I think people want a control, from Microsoft, that is easy to use and ready to go once dropped into a project. Otherwise, sad to say, I think people will move on to something else.

  9. Anonymous

    Well said JoeS.  I agree completely.

  10. Chris Pendleton

    Great discussion everyone. The one thing I’m worried about is confusion, so let me set things straight. We are definately "One Microsoft" and pairing Virtual Earth and Silverlight is an awesome idea. Shoot, pairing Virtual Earth with every Microsoft product is an awesome idea in one way or another. While I’m not here to neither announce official support for accessing the tile server, nor am I here to say accessing the tile server is okay (we have certain contracts in place that allow for this, but the risks are still assumed and it’s still a violation of the TOU to do so) I am here to stir the discussion. I noticed quite a bit of Silverlight and Virtual Earth integration on the blogosphere and wanted to pose the question for discussion – what if we didn’t have a Silverlight control? What if we supported partners and developers leveraging the Silverlight libraries for VE integration? What if we became a part of the the Silverlight SDK? (That’s not happening, but I’m surprised the rumor didn’t start!). I love to see the innovation everyone is doing with VE; and, Silverlight and is SUPER exciting for developing .NET applications without having to learn JavaScript and without having the DOM limitations that cause performance problems. So, while I have nothing to announce today and still supporting whatever is best for the developer community. You’ve all made some very great points that I can take the product team for discussion about perspectives on future developments with Virtual Earth. Thanks for all feedback – keep it coming!

    CP

  11. Anonymous

    Chris

    As a casual Web developer, I was hoping and expecting a Silverlight VE control very similar to the map control for HTML/Javascript, 3rd party developers are doing a great job in showing us what is possible.I think Microsoft needs to show "Leadership" here, Microsoft has always provided us with ready to use Components look at ASP.NET WPF or even Window Forms to consume back-end services or frameworks,  develop in ASP.net use I use MS built in controls when I want something beyond the basics I might go and shop around say for example Telerik or Component One, this means I need to spend extra dollars, Chris after your MIX 08 presentation we were all excited that MS will provide us with a control, now that has changed  as noted by previous comments those of us in the wild are having to battle the Adobe FlexFlash Google Earth crowd, we need MS to provide us with the tools to compete with these guys.

    One of your colleagues at Tech-Ed talked about an ASP.NET control for VE, now I am thinking maybe SL is not ready for prime-time when it comes to working VE  

    Those of us that have made a bet on Microsoft RIA and UI platform need clear guidance and roadmap on how VE is going to integrate with these technologies.Mapping has now become first class citizens on a web page just like Video and Images. One more time please reconsider MS position on this issue

  12. Anonymous

    One issue with including the token in the url is it affects our caching.  Because the token changes so frequently, our program is not using the built in cache abilities of WinInet.

    Will the sever accept posting the token Is there a way to POST the token parameter as application/x-www-form-urlencoded rather than including it in the url request?

  13. Anonymous

    One issue with including the token in the url is it affects our caching.  Because the token changes so frequently, our program is not using the built in cache abilities of WinInet.

    Will the sever accept posting the token POST’ed as application/x-www-form-urlencoded rather than including it in the url request?

  14. Anonymous

    good series on silverlight virtual earth control

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