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 Virtual Earth