Mapping: When being a smart follower isn’t enough

Microsoft announced that they will debut a new mapping service, MSN Virtual Earth, this summer (thanks to Slashdot for the link). The service combines satellite images with map data, provides Sims-like isometric views, and allows layering information about businesses and services atop the search results.

This isn’t a surprising move. After all, MSN Maps have been around for a while, and Microsoft has had Terraserver since 1998. What’s different is that Microsoft’s announcement has a feel of desperation and me-too-ness about it, coming several months after Google debuted satellite images in their slick Google Maps service.

Integration of maps and satellite images is a natural incremental feature that provides radical amounts of value to users. It’s just the sort of software that you used to expect Microsoft to release. Embarrassing, then, that they got beaten to their own punch by a company that had no prior competence in mapping or imaging.

The good news in this scenario is that customers are getting a choice, as Microsoft feels the sting of competition. The bad news—for customers and for its investors— is that the most highly capitalized software company in the world isn’t capable of turning all its resources into bringing products like this to the market faster.


How is it that, even with all the work I put in over the weekend on our back yard, I don’t suddenly look like Jesse Metcalfe, the lawnboy on Desperate Housewives? As Larry Niven would say, TANJ. I should at least get the abs from all the exercise.

But to take a step back: we were essentially rebuilding our back yard from scratch last week. It all started with tree removal. We are planning to do some additions to the house over time, and one of the three large maples in the back yard was too close to the house. When we decided to remove it, that started some wheels in motion, and we ended up taking down two more. I have really mixed feelings about the tree removal, but we are planning to plant smaller fruit trees in their place, and by adding a lot more sunlight to the back we can eliminate the sea of patchy moss that used to dwell there.

So Friday and Saturday we bagged the leftover sawdust
from getting the stumps ground out; tilled the whole back yard;
spread something like 25 cubic feet of compost (not enough, but a
start); and put out about five pounds of grass seed. Just in time for
some more heavy rains.

Correction: InfoCard federates

Johannes Ernst, whom I linked from my piece on InfoCard last week, wrote in to point out that I erred in my quick description of the service. He says that in InfoCard:

…the PC does not actually store the identity information, only pointers to it. The actual identity information is stored by identity providers, who are the “3rd party” in the system (the other ones being the relying party, such as a website, and the PC component).

This makes InfoCard much less like Apple’s Keychain (or for that matter the existing Windows saved password feature) and more like, well, a federated identity system. Interestingly, this is consistent with what I remember from the discussion of the future of Passport back in 2001 with MSN execs.