Virtual Earth is one week old – What we’ve learned

We launched Virtual Earth Beta a week ago yesterday, and the response has been overwhelming to say the least. We’ve received a ton of feedback and suggestions from users via email, reviews, and blogs (Check out Jeremy Wright’s review, Austin Pauls’ comments, Search Engine Watch, or this fun thread at /. for a sampling) Work is well underway on the next release of Virtual Earth and your feedback is super important to insure it rocks. Here is a quick summary of the most asked about areas of this beta release:

Driving Directions – It is clear from feedback that our temporary link over to our MSN Maps and Directions site for driving directions is less than optimal. We totally hear ya. As a matter of fact, we almost held up the beta release to get the driving directions functionality integrated into VE, but we knew the feedback from getting this beta out now would be very useful in enhancing other areas of the application. We have two updates planned that will first integrate driving directions directly in the Virtual Earth Interface, then add some features that will bring some pretty slick new functionality    to web based driving directions.

Aerial Imagery – A lot of you want to see newer imagery in the system. For this beta, we took the imagery that we had in our TerraServer and used it to create our aerial layer in VE. Yeah, in a lot of areas the imagery is really old and often in B&W. (For a look at places where we have Hi Res imagery, note the dark green patches on this map at TerraServer) Of course we want to have aerial imagery of this quality and resolution for all of the geographies covered by Virtual Earth, but like all of our features this will be an evolution. We are working with our imagery providing partners to get updated imagery in the system asap. On a related note, a lot of you were alarmed to see that we had removed the Apple headquarters off our map. Our full plan is to of course remove each of our competitor’s headquarters from the map, but we just didn’t have time to get to this in the beta. By the time we get to our final release, we’ll have this feature nailed down. 😉

Everyone digs the Scratchpad! – The feature suggestions coming in to enhance the scratchpad are really inspiring. We had a feeling this would become a popular feature, but we had no idea how passionate people would become about being able to ‘stick notes to the refrigerator door’ and share them with friends. For instance, check out my favorite lunch places near my office. The limitation of adding 5 elements to the Scratch pad is definitely a temporary limit for the beta, and there will soon be options to save the contents of your scratchpad in a more permanent manner than just cookies. We have heard your requests to make sharing your Scratchpad with friends easier. Watch for some major improvements to this area of Virtual Earth in our next major update.

International Coverage – Most functionality in this Beta release of Virtual Earth, including the map coverage, is for the United States only. Yes, we could have released the beta as “Virtual USA”, and renamed it in the near future when we begin rolling out coverage in more countries, but getting products renamed here at Microsoft once they are public is a little tricky; the ‘brand police’ would be on us like a starved pit bull and no one wants that. The other option was to not release a public beta at all while we preparing our international coverage, but as I mentioned above team here felt that getting feedback from users in a public beta was really important to insure our final V1 release has the goods that users want. The result is a beta release that only covers the US, but this will not be the case for long. Over at our MSN Maps site, we offer maps, geocoding, and driving directions in 9 languages for over 20 countries. Our plans call for getting all of these countries and more included in Virtual Earth.

Developers, developers, developers – A bunch of you asked about building applications that integrate Virtual Earth’s mapping capabilities. We have you covered! Neil Roodyn has set up a developer center and application gallery at . Check it out! He has great tutorials that will have you building your first Virtual Earth enhanced app in 15 minutes, guaranteed. Currently the Virtual Earth map control is available for free for non commercial applications. If you are interested in developing commercial mapping applications with VE, we’ll have more information available real soon. The MapPoint team here at Microsoft has been supporting commercial application developers for 4 years now with our MapPoint Web Service, and we are definitely going to be offering commercial use of Virtual Earth realy soon. Stay tuned to our blog for details in the near future or email us if you just can’t wait to begin using VE in your commercial apps.

So keep the feedback coming! Enjoy using Virtual Earth, and stay tuned for some exciting enhancements and new features based on your feedback.


Steve Lombardi and The MSN VE team

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