Wow! Virtual Earth is impressive. I just went to the website, clicked on the 'Locate Me' button, told it to find me using my computer's IP address, and it did just that in less than three seconds.
What is Virtual Earth? From the FAQ:
Virtual Earth is a new map and search system soon to be released by Microsoft. Virtual Earth brings together a number of components that allow the user to find out "What is here?" and "Where are the nearest things to here?" The components consist of maps, aerial imagery, photos, business directories, ratings and reviews.
Unlike yesterday, when news about Virtual Earth started trickling out, you can actually access the site (well, it's early morning here in Amsterdam and most of the US is still asleep) and the site itself is speedy.
I also tried out the Location Finder application which uses the wireless access points visible to your computer to determine your location (so you need wi-fi for this to work). Equally impressive, although on installing it my PC rang all the alarm bells - Norton Internet Security halted the install to request authorization to run a 'malicious script,' (yes, go ahead) and Zone Alarm wanted authorization to allow it to access the net (yes, let it).
This app looks rather neat. It sits in your system tray so you can use it at any time. I can see value in that when you're travelling as once your location is pinpointed, you can then search for businesses, etc, close to where you are. It works as well in Firefox as in Internet Explorer. And, most importantly, it appears to work fine in locations in Europe - not a typical US-centric application, therefore.
(Heh! Also a great tool if you get lost somewhere - fire up this service and you'll find out where you are. Assuming there's a wi-fi network nearby, of course. I wonder if it would work with a portable hot spot?)
Some people might be a bit uncomfortable with this wording from the license agreement:
In online mode, information about the access points will be sent to Microsoft and the online Location Finder service will determine your location. This information includes the signal strengths and basic service set identifiers (BSSID) of these access points. In offline mode, the Microsoft Location Finder product installed on your system will determine your location. Your location information will not be sent to Microsoft.
A clear choice, really - if you want to use this aspect of the service, agree to this. If not, don't, and let the system pinpoint your location by your IP address (which limits your location options substantially when you travel).
Some people say Virtual Earth is the equivalent of Google Maps. I can't say as I've tried Google Maps just the once. One difference I noted from that experience - Google Maps works only in the US. But you can read what others say.
Detailed info about Virtual Earth (still in beta) at Via Virtual Earth.
On first looks, I'd say very nice work, Microsoft.