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 More likely, their aerial pictures were just out of date by a matter of years.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

Security Leftovers

10 hot Android smartphones that got price cuts recently

With numerous smartphone getting launched each month, brands always adjust prices to give slightly competitive edge to older smartphone models and also to clear inventories. Here are 10 smartphones that got price cuts recently. Read more

Debian and Ubuntu News

  • Debian Project News - July 29th, 2016
    Welcome to this year's third issue of DPN, the newsletter for the Debian community.
  • SteamOS Brewmaster 2.87 Released With NVIDIA Pascal Support
  • Snap interfaces for sandboxed applications
    Last week, we took a look at the initial release of the "portal" framework developed for Flatpak, the application-packaging format currently being developed in GNOME. For comparison, we will also explore the corresponding resource-control framework available in the Snap format developed in Ubuntu. The two packaging projects have broadly similar end goals, as many have observed, but they tend to vary quite a bit in the implementation details. Naturally, those differences are of particular importance to the intended audience: application developers. There is some common ground between the projects. Both use some combination of techniques (namespaces, control groups, seccomp filters, etc.) to restrict what a packaged application can do. Moreover, both implement a "deny by default" sandbox, then provide a supplemental means for applications to access certain useful system resources on a restricted or mediated basis. As we will see, there is also some overlap in what interfaces are offered, although the implementations differ. Snap has been available since 2014, so its sandboxing and resource-control implementations have already seen real-world usage. That said, the design of Snap originated in the Ubuntu Touch project aimed at smartphones, so some of its assumptions are undergoing revision as Snap comes to desktop systems. In the Snap framework, the interfaces that are defined to provide access to system resources are called, simply, "interfaces." As we will see, they cover similar territory to the recently unveiled "portals" for Flatpak, but there are some key distinctions. Two classes of Snap interfaces are defined: one for the standard resources expected to be of use to end-user applications, and one designed for use by system utilities. Snap packages using the standard interfaces can be installed with the snap command-line tool (which is the equivalent of apt for .deb packages). Packages using the advanced interfaces require a separate management tool.
  • Ubuntu 15.10 (Wily Werewolf) Reaches End Of Life Today (July 28)
  • Ubuntu MATE 16.10 Yakkety Yak Gets A Unity HUD-Like Searchable Menu
    MATE HUD, a Unity HUD-like tool that allows searching through an application's menu, was recently uploaded to the official Yakkety Yak repositories, and is available (but not enabled) by default in Ubuntu MATE 16.10.

Tablet review: BQ Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition

As employees have become more and more flexible in recent years thanks to the power and performance of mobile devices, the way we work has changed dramatically. We frequently chop and change between smartphones, tablets and laptops for different tasks, which has led to the growth of the hybrid market – devices such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 and Apple’s iPad Pro – that provide the power and functionality of a laptop with the mobility and convenience of a tablet. Read more