War of the worlds

GCN Insider | Products and trends that affect the way government uses technology

Boston in the springtime: Microsoft's Virtual Earth offers the ability to swoop down and take a panoramic view of selected locations.

Photo provided by Microsoft Corp.

In the war of the virtual worlds, Microsoft Corp.'s Virtual Earth is mounting a widening assault on the popularity of Google Earth'especially among government planners.

Few would have imagined how quickly an innovative online software service that stitches together thousands of satellite and aerial photographs would change the way people look at the world of geospatial data. But with the ability now to map everything from hospitals to fire hydrants to evacuation routes on top of aerial views of cities, enhanced by 3-D renderings of buildings, such services have quickly become the ultimate municipal planning and emergency management tool.

While Google Earth has captured the lion's share of attention, Microsoft has been busy building out its Virtual Earth platform with a focus on higher accuracy, greater photographic fidelity and more precise mapping tools.

Rob Roy, director of Virtual Earth public sector sales and marketing, pointed to a new software-as-service tool that Microsoft launched a few weeks ago as one example. The tool lets users draw and color polygonal overlays on top of maps over the Internet with the ease and speed more typically found in installed software.
The big push is the incorporation of aerial photography for a growing number of cities that lets Virtual Earth provide completely realistic, textured, 3-D-like renderings of as many as 5,000 buildings in a typical city. 'Ph.D.s worked on this for eight years,' Roy said. As a result, details of building facades are not only fully visible, but the dimensions are reliable enough for emergency teams to use in plotting out response paths. A visit to Denver or Boston on Virtual Earth offers a glimpse of what Microsoft is trying to accomplish.

Roy claims Microsoft has thousands of developers and partners working on Virtual Earth. He was less specific about how quickly other cities would be rendered as panoramically as Denver. But one thing's likely: It's a great time for anyone thinking of becoming a government geospatial specialist. '

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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