Thursday, December 08, 2005

Microsoft Launches Windows Live Local

Microsoft has launched Windows Live Local, one of the first applications under it's new Windows Live brand. This web application is a rebranded Microsoft Virtual Earth, and provides features typical to other map sites, although it provides subtle usability tweaks typical to the Microsoft design ethos, which innovate while retaining known usage paradigms.

New mouse navigation features allow one to zoom in by center-clicking and drawing a zoom-in box on the map. One can also merely left-click continuously to zoom into the target region. Right-clicking brings up an intiutive menu that affords navigation and driving direction options.
Windows Live Local image
A feature called Bird's Eye Images provides a high-resolution, low-angle aerial view of a small area. This goes beyond the traditional satellite imagery by providing top-down as well as angular views of the area under observation. Coverage is currently limited to a few metropolitan areas in the continental United States. Additional views include the traditional Road map style and the Aerial view, which provides satellite imagery.

Driving Directions allow one to plot a route between both known addresses and random points on a road, marked by Pushpins. One can create and store pushpins and tag them with notes. These custom pushpins can be emailed if one chooses. The Scratch Pad also allows one to blog (via MSN Spaces, naturally) and annotate the map/driving directions.

The Locate Me feature determines the user's current location either by using the public IP address associated with the device or via Microsoft' Location Finder, an application which attempts to determine the location from nearby WiFi networks. My location was incorrectly determined as being in the center of Seattle (I'm in Ohio) by Location Finder, and accurately by the IP Address locator.
Windows Live Local image
Interestingly, relevant text ads similar to those provided by They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are displayed along with search results, such as a search for the Golden Gate Bridge providing tour operators' advertisements.

Some nifty features deserve closer attention, such as the Community site, which seems to display random images, perhaps based on current searches. Developers are given information on building custom URLs, which allow one to create a hyperlink that always opens Windows Live Local to a specific location, map style, zoom level, and with specific search panels and your scratch pad.

The AJAX application is interesting, and well-designed, although the map is a little too sensitive to casual mouse movements, scrolling when one moves the mouse around the edges. One does not fathom clearly the correlation between the Windows brand and the mapping tools. Perhaps in the future, a sea of Windows PCs will blanket map regions. One can visualize numerous applications that could leverage such knowledge.
Geographic Information Systems have transitioned painlessly from the academic to the commonplace. It remains to be seen if this new branding will help Microsoft gain further marketshare in this space. Google is apparently launching Google Local for the Mac soon. In related news, Microsoft has also pushed back the launch of IE 7 to 2006.

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