With the recent release of ver 6 of the Virtual Earth API I thought It would be interesting to look back on our previous virtual earth roadmap article to see how close we were with Microsoft on delivering their updates and features.
So here is a list of the features and the original Microsoft unofficial suggest release dates, lets see just how hard they have been working on Virtual Earth these last few months.
Original suggested release date for this update was summer 2007, we now have almost complete Safari support just a few months later than expect. Personally this is a welcome but not exciting feature for us at Earthware, I was quiet enjoying telling mac users to use firefox ;-)
Mobile API / tileserver
Originally suggest release date was summer 2007, however nothing has appeared recently except and update live.com mobile application. There is still not way to create your own mobile apps based on VE unless you code your own.
Rooftop accurate geocoding for the US
The timeframe suggest for this was end of 2007 and its just been released in ver 6 of virtual earth, so spot on. We have not really benefited from this yet as most of our projects are European based. It's really only a shame the data is not available for other countries.
Polygon searching and native GIS
This always had a very sketchy timeframe and so its no suprise we have heard nothing about this on the virtual earth front. However my guess is it will be some kind of tie in with the upcomming spatial query support in sql 2008.
Better custom image overlays
There were rumors of better support for overlaying your own tiles, and still being able to add the roads layer on top. Whilst we have heard nothing more on this it is interesting to see Microsoft Researches MapCrucher (which can be used to create your own tile layers) has recently become a fully fledge Microsoft product so hopefully we will see some more development resources given to the project.
This was one that got us excited as we are often asked by clients is there a way to show the date the aerial imagery was taken. However we have not seen or heard anything of this one. There was some suggestion among developers that maybe a community based project could collect and provide this data.
Street side views
Other than the preview which we talked about before there is still no sign of any news about streetside views. Meanwhile Google maps has releases its street side views to the amazement of the general public. My guess is Microsoft are still busy fixing all the privacy issues that have caused Google a few upsets.
Microsoft talked about improving textures of their 3d modeled cities and many of these have indeed been updated which is a welcome addition. Of course here at Earthware we were waiting in anticipation for support to add custom 3d models and again with the release of ver 6 of Virtual Earth this has arrived! We have already written in detail what we think of the new 3d modeling tools but in summary we think they are a brilliant tool in first release but still lots of work to do to compete with Google Earth / Sketchup.
Licensing for imagery use outside of Virtual Earth
There has been no official word on this yet, but part of the new 3d buildings tools released with ver 6 of Virtual Earth include a way to export 3d tours as videos. There does not seem to be any mention anywhere of what you can use these videos for but at least there is an officially supported method to export imagery. It appears Microsoft have made some changes in their license agreements with their imagery partners so we can only hope more options become available over the coming months.
Updates to licensing
It was quiet clear from the last Virtual Earth partners day that Microsoft were having some issues working out how to license Virtual Earth as there was not way to actually track map transactions. This seems to have been fixed in the ver 6 release of Virtual Earth as there is now mention of using identification tokens for those paying to license Virtual Earth. It will be interesting to see over the coming months how this changes Virtual Earths currently very generous licensing options.
Summing it all up
Overall we can clearly see Microsoft have committed serious development resources to add to and improved Virtual Earth since summer 2007. Many of the features we previously mentioned are now available as well as some we did not expect like birdseye views in 3d mode. It is clear to us that Microsoft are starting to take Virtual Earth more seriously both with the increasing impressive pace of development (this is the 2nd release in 6 months) and with the better developer support we are all now receiving on the MSDN virtual earth forums from the Virtual Earth development team.