Not to be outdone by Google Earth, Microsoft have just released an update to their mapping technology called Microsoft Virtual Earth. Microsoft virtual earth takes 3D maps to the next level by letting users view 3D replicas of buildings and landmarks. Currently fifteen US cities have been given the 3D treatment, but Microsoft have stated that 100 cities worldwide will be available by mid 2007. According to Microsoft, the cost of developing 3D maps of each city cost around $195,000, approximately one tenth of the cost of producing these maps manually.
During a recent demonstration in San Francisco, Microsoft's general manager demonstrated how browsers could fly through San Francisco, as if they were playing a video game. As a comparison, Google Earth's 3D capabilities only provide limited 3D content in their photographic mode. Microsoft have also stated that additional detail can be added to their 3D maps, like traffic and weather information, and even property values.
With the navigation controls in Virtual Earth you can view cities and streets from different heights and angels. Latitude, longitude and altitude appear in the lower-left status bar of the browser. A scale bar in the lower right corner indicates the distance from your viewing point to the objects below you.
Microsoft also plans to add advertising functionality to Virtual Earth. With the ability to post 'virtual' billboards on the side of buildings and geographical targeting the opportunities for a new breed of advertisements are endless. Imagine viewing a 3D image of the MCG and having an ad for the AFL pop up - directing you to a website where you can buy tickets to the next football match.
To trial Microsoft Virtual Earth go to maps.live.com. You'll need to be running either Internet Explorer 6 or 7, and have at least 512Mb RAM and a 1GHz processor.