Virtual Earth releases “hill shaded” 2D maps

As part of their huge update yesterday, Microsoft released a new map style for 2D maps called “hill shaded”. This helps give the appearance of altitude to flat maps. A great example of it can be seen at Mount Rainier National Park. The cool thing is that this is not aerial photography — that’s still a different view. This is just their “road” view.

Google has been working on improving their 2D views as well, with the release of the 2.5D buildings a while back. However, the difference between these two programs when dealing with elevation is quite striking (click thumbnails for full-size images).

Mount Rainier in Google Maps
Mount Rainier in Google Maps
Mount Rainier in Virtual Earth
Mount Rainier in Virtual Earth

How Google Earth [Really] Works

Stefan at Ogle Earth point out a fascinating article about what really makes Google Earth tick.  It’s written by Avi Bar-Ze’ev, who helped develop Google Earth back when it was still known as Keyhole.  It’s a very tech-heavy article about how you go from having terabytes worth of imagery to then rendering it all on a 3D globe.  Good stuff.

Massive updates to Virtual Earth

Microsoft just announced a ton of new updates for Virtual Earth.  This includes:

  • Updated road/hybrid map styling for the entire world
  • Hillshaded roads for the entire world
  • 3Di/Boulder hi-res orthos for 44 cities in 10 states, along with a bit in Canada and some in France.
  • New or expanded 3D models in 47 cities, along with some in France and in the UK.

You really need to just go see the full list, then go check it out for yourself in VE.  Quite impressive.

They already had a substantial lead over Google in their quantity of 3D buildings, and this update has just extended that lead much further.

All of the data in this update has been included in the API as well, so that’s good news for sites that take advantage of it.

Easily Import Addresses into Google Earth

John Gardiner at Using Google Earth points out a new tutorial on Google’s site that explains how to batch import addresses into Google Earth.  I don’t have a set of data that needs to be done, but it looks quite slick nonetheless.

Virtual Earth finding its way onto more consumer-oriented business sites

I’m finding more and more sites lately that are using Virtual Earth as their on-site mapping program.  The latest is Bank of America (via the VE dev blog).  It’s got a unique issue in that it claims to require that you enter your City, State and ZIP, but it appears that ZIP-only will work (as it should).

Another fairly new one is Weather.com (here is the radar for my area).  However, its got one big problem – static radar images only.  A static radar doesn’t help me decide if rain is on the way, as it could be coming from a variety of different angles.  All that a static radar will do is tell me if it’s raining right now — I have windows that serve the same purpose.  (btw – if you want a nice animated radar, I’ve always been a big fan of AccuWeather)

Finally, we have Harry Norman realtors.  We used them to buy our current house and we’re big fans.  I told them a few times that they should put their listings into a Google Earth network link, as that would be great for potential buyers.  I had been putting all of our “homes to see” into GE, along with local Target stores, Publix, Chick-Fil-A and other places that we enjoy, just to see how it shakes out.  Dropping all of that into a nice GE network link would be amazingly easy, but repeated e-mails to them have gone completely unanswered.

Anyhow, here is their “Map Search”.  As you zoom in, you can see where all of the Harry Norman offices are located.  Wait, what?  Yep.  Their map shows all of their offices for you, but no houses.  A link in the corner shows how many listings would be on the map, which you can click to show in a big long list.  While I suppose it beats nothing, it’s really quite pitiful.

One final complaint – none of these maps support the Space Navigator.  At all.  As the Google Earth Blog said a while back, the Virtual Earth interface has a rather “clunky” mouse interface.  I agree completely.

All of that being said, it’s impressive to see these big companies choosing to use Virtual Earth rather than Google Maps (or Earth, in some cases).  This battle between Google and MS should only continue to heat up, which will ultimately benefit all of us in the form of better products.