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.