Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Oops! Microsoft's Earth falls flat

Filed under
Microsoft

This week, poor Microsoft delivered a seminar in how not to launch a website. The release of their Virtual Earth site got the kind of word-of-mouth buzz that nobody wants: First, word went around that they were spiteful, but then they turned out to be merely incompetent.

It's a funny story. Virtual Earth is Microsoft's attempt to answer Google Maps; both are giant on-line maps of the planet that you can pan about in detail, zooming in to see side streets and then out to inspect whole continents.

(They are at virtualearth.microsoft.com and maps.google.com, respectively.)

Both mesh aerial photography with digital roadmaps to create little portals that contain the whole world -- in theory.

Virtual Earth arrived on the Net this week with much ballyhoo -- but none of it was from Microsoft. The first many heard of it were headlines like "Did Microsoft wipe Apple off the map?" Apparently, someone noticed that when you zoom the Microsoft Virtual Earth map to the location of rival Apple's headquarters in California, nothing but an industrial lot appears.

Even as Microsoft started issuing denials, it was obvious that they wouldn't have been so stupid as to doctor their maps. More likely, their aerial pictures were just out of date by a matter of years.

To verify this hypothesis, inquiring minds asked themselves, "What landmarks in America might have changed in, say, the last five years?" There was some hurried scrolling over to New York. And jarringly enough, there were the Twin Towers, standing tall in the face of reality. Virtual Earth, indeed.

And so, with another round of unpleasant commentary on this discovery, the Virtual Earth met the real Earth with a thud. Its disastrous entrance might have been forgettable, except the product itself isn't that good. Not only are the close-up images ancient, but they're a grainy black-and-white, and only of the United States. Google, by comparison, offers beautiful colour images of urban areas worldwide, all taken since 2002.

It turns out that the imagery that Microsoft used for Virtual Earth comes from an old Microsoft website called Terraserver, which has been lingering on-line since 1997, with pictures dating as far back as 1991. If Virtual Earth wasn't belatedly slapped together from old parts to compete with Google, it certainly looks like it was. Microsoft emphasizes that Virtual Earth is still a "beta" product -- which means it's unfinished and buggy, but the fact is that Microsoft came to market six months late with a second-rate product.

This comes at a time when things are getting really interesting at Google. Their maps are becoming a lingua franca for sharing geographical information on-line, in a way that clunky older systems like MapQuest never did. Links to Google Maps are starting to appear in rental classifieds and party invitations: casual uses that show people are using it as a tool, not a technology.

And Google has opened up its system so that amateur programmers can add their own overlays to Google's maps. Already people are adding subway maps to their hometowns, or annotating satellite views of London with markers showing exactly where the attackers struck. As this gets easier, expect to see Google maps get dragooned into service any time someone on-line needs to show what happened where.

What the Net makes with Google's stuff is a story to watch; Microsoft is planning innovations of its own, and Microsoft has refined derivative, derided software into winners more than once. (There was this one called "Windows.") Tempting to say that the consumer wins, but still, given the week that was, Microsoft lost.

By IVOR TOSSELL
globeandmail.com.

More in Tux Machines

today's leftovers

  • The future of xinput, xmodmap, setxkbmap, xsetwacom and other tools under Wayland
    This post applies to most tools that interface with the X server and change settings in the server, including xinput, xmodmap, setxkbmap, xkbcomp, xrandr, xsetwacom and other tools that start with x. The one word to sum up the future for these tools under Wayland is: "non-functional". An X window manager is little more than an innocent bystander when it comes to anything input-related. Short of handling global shortcuts and intercepting some mouse button presses (to bring the clicked window to the front) there is very little a window manager can do. It's a separate process to the X server and does not receive most input events and it cannot affect what events are being generated. When it comes to input device configuration, any X client can tell the server to change it - that's why general debugging tools like xinput work.
  • Please don't use pastebins in bugs
  • Linux Top 3: SparkyLinux 4.5, Mageia 5.1 and Peppermint 7
    SparkyLinux is (yet another) Debian based Linux distribution. The SparkyLinux 4.5 update codenamed "Tyche' was released on December 3, providing users with multiple desktop choice other than GNOME. SparkLinux 4.5 ships with KDE, LXDE, LXQt, MATE and Xfce.
  • Upcoming Linux Distributions Releasing In December 2016
    In December 2016, a big Linux distribution release is taking shape in the form of Linux Mint 18.1 Serena, flavored by Cinnamon 3.2. It’ll be accompanied by the release of security and privacy-focused Anonymous Live CD Tails 2.9.
  • AMD Extends Strategic Partnership with Mentor Graphics for Linux-based Embedded Solutions
  • Samsung Z2 gets Firmware Update to Tizen 2.4.0.6 Z200FDDU0BPK3 in India
    Samsung’s latest Tizen-based smartphone, the Z2 model number SM-Z200F, has had a new software / firmware update land in India today. The update takes it to Tizen version 2.4.0.6., firmware Z200FDDU0BPK3. The update log mentions the following improvements: Improved send SOS message (panic mode) and also improvements to the security of the device. Additional bug fixes and performance improvements may have also been bundled in.

Leftovers: Software

  • choqok 1.6 Twitter Client was released and completely ported with KDE Frameworks 5
    Choqok is a fast, efficient and simple to use twitter client for Linux (especially built for the KDE desktop environment) that is installed by default to some of the Linux distribution which shipped with KDE Desktop Environment. The name comes from an ancient Persian word, means Sparrow!
  • 10 open source tools for your sysadmin toolbox [Ed: Terrible list which starts with two suggestions of Microsoft EEE]
    Sysadmins, no matter what platforms they work on, are awash in great open source software tools. In this article, we highlight well-known—and not-so-well-known—tools that have released new versions in 2016.
  • NetworkManager 1.2.6 Lets You Activate Multiple PPPoE Connections Simultaneously
    Beniamino Galvani was proud to announce the release and general availability of a new maintenance update to the stable NetworkManager 1.2 series of the open source network connection manager software for GNU/Linux distributions. NetworkManager is the most used network connection manager, adopted by almost all Linux-based operating systems on the market, and NetworkManager 1.2.6 is now the most advanced release of the 1.2 stable series, coming four months after the NetworkManager 1.2.4 update to fix a few bugs and regressions reported by users since then.
  • GNOME loves to cook
    With the upcoming 20th birthday of GNOME next year, some of us thought that we should make another attempt at this application, maybe as a birthday gift to all of GNOME. Shortly after GUADEC, I got my hands on some existing designs and started to toy around with implementing them over a few weekends and evenings. The screenshots in this post show how far I got since then.

today's howtos

Linux Foundation: Blockchain and Automotive Grade Linux

  • Linux Foundation’s Blockchain Collective Hyperledger Hits 100 Members
    Hyperledger aims to enable organizations to build robust, industry-specific applications, platforms and hardware systems to support their individual business transactions by creating an enterprise grade, open source distributed ledger framework and code base.
  • The Blockchain Milestone You May Have Missed
  • Sasken becomes member of Automotive Grade Linux
    Sasken Communication Technologies Ltd has announced its membership with Automotive Grade Linux as its bronze member. This will enable Sasken to provide solutions to customers on Automotive Grade Linux (AGL). Sasken will provide product development and system integration services for automotive customers spanning in-vehicle infotainment (IVI), instrument cluster, heads-up display and telematics.