Mapping the landscape…

Well, Microsoft finally launched it’s Virtual Earth into public beta.  The interface is pretty clean, once you clear out the “Welcome” box.

Things I like:

  • The scratchpad
  • Labeled Aerial Photos
  • Scroll-wheel zoom

Things I wish were better:

  • Give me some right-click action.  Actions could include: Add a point to the scratchpad, find nearby places, etc.
  • The zooming is almost cool, but when you zoom far enough, it zooms, then it erases and redraws the screen.  It does this in both IE and in Firefox.  It seems to do this when it decides to rescale the text.  I understand that this is a tought nut to crack with a browser interface, but it really distracts from the experience.  Smoothly scaling text and no erase-redraw would be a good goal.
  • How about pan/tilt/spin.   Maybe I’m spoiled by Google Earth (Keyhole), but this takes a mapping interface to a whole other level, and allows the user to get a different perspective (literally) on the places they’re viewing.  I’m guessing that all the Virtual Earth panels are prerendered, making this another tough challenge.  If it can’t be done in the browser version,  maybe we can have it in the next version of Mappoint.  I’d love to see all this work incorporated into a thick-client or offline application.

Overall, I’d say Virtual Earth is one step ahead of, but still far behind Google Earth