It's great to see how agile the Windows Live Local / Virtual Earth team are - they've just released what is their third or fourth public release in almost as many months, I think. Building on the maps and routing algorithms from the Streets & Trips / Autoroute products, they've created the sine qua non of maps, demonstrating how rich an experience you can get with an expertly-crafted AJAX site these days.
Ten things I love about Windows Live Local:
- They've just added maps for the UK - you can drill down to street level both maps and aerial views. Just a few years ago, I paid £100 (about $180) for a huge hardback book of aerial photography encompassing the whole of the country, but the detail was still very low except for a few chosen hot spots like Central London. Now with just a click of my mouse I can see my old house in sufficient detail to be able to pick out my blue Land Rover Freelander on the driveway (admittedly that dates the photos by a year or two, but still...)
- The bird's eye photography has also just been extended to cover parts of the UK - check out this link that contains pointers to all the spots that are covered.
- In fact, that link above demonstrates another nice feature of the newest release - collections. I can create a map with a bunch of pushpins on it and save the pins as a collection; then I can share the collection with annotated commentary with anyone else who might be interested.
- Live traffic - being able to check out all the routes home or into Seattle from the same map interface is handy, and the traffic data seems to be updated on a minute-by-minute basis for metropolitan areas.
- Scrollwheel support - enough said.
- Incredible developer support - you can build all of this same functionality into your own .NET applications. I'm working with one company at the moment who build mission-critical software that shows live data being overlaid onto maps (I'm being deliberately vague to protect their identity until they give me permission to tell you more). Since Virtual Earth, they've been able to add real maps that zoom and scale as you move around the application instead of the blocky bitmaps and vector outlines that they were using previously. It adds real value to the application and took almost no effort.
- MSR MapCruncher - allowing you to overlay other maps (bicycle routes, walking trails) onto the Windows Live Local application. Check out this implementation as an example.
- Integration with rich client applications like NASA World Wind - allowing you to overlay the Virtual Earth hybrid maps onto a 3D globe with altitude information. See this plug-in for an example implementation.
- Other incredible mash-up applications like Zillow that can give you house prices for your local neighborhood (and of course, experience the guilty pleasure of seeing how much your colleague or friend's house is worth!)
- Last, but certainly not least, good printing support. There aren't many web applications out there that provide the granularity of control over printing that Windows Live Local offers. If you have Windows Vista Beta 2 or the WinFX Runtime Components Beta 2 on your machine (for the XPS Viewer support), you can click here to view a sample piece of printer output for a map of the Microsoft campus. I think this is pretty hard to accomplish in a web browser environment - well done to the developer concerned.
If you've not tried out this new release, give it a go - I think you'll be impressed...