Microsoft is taking on AOL-owned MapQuest, one of the leading providers
of maps and directions on the Internet, with its new MSN MapPoint. The
site aims to be the preferred destination for end-users looking to locate
a street, address or point-to-point directions. MSN MapPoint also links
with a host of partners to provide directions by phone, weather, city
guides and other location-based services.
The mapping tools of MSNBC, CarPoint and Terraserver as well as MSN
MapPoint itself, are built on MapPoint .NET. The programmable XML Web
Service is developed and hosted by Microsoft. For now, the service is only
accessible to Microsoft properties. The worldwide launch for Independent
Software Developers (ISVs) is slated for March.
Microsoft is proud to announce the findings of study of 50 map users,
which indicate that 6 out of 7 users preferred MSN MapPoint over
competitors including MapQuest, MapBlast (powered by Vicinity) and Yahoo
Maps (powered by MapQuest). MSN MapPoint does have a few extra bells and
whistles to set it apart from these and other online mapping services: a
globe to spin and see the world, the ability to provide driving directions
in the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe, and a slimmed down print layout. The
company hopes to update data every six months and add features from time
I put MSN MapPoint up against MapQuest. I had each one find my house.
MapQuest was quicker. The map included single line roads, and was not all
that attractive. However, the red star was correctly located, as was a
pink building labeled as the local hospital. The second tab provided an
aerial photo. To find hotels, I chose the tab on the map page for lodging,
and clicked the Hotel check box. At first I was informed that there were
none in my area, so I zoomed out and tried again. I got a map with little
beds illustrating hotel locations.
The MapPoint map was prettier, with double line roads. It included the
details of the address on the map (number, street, town, state and zip),
and put a red pushpin at the location. Searching for a local business took
me to a Yellow Pages site. I had to retype the address to receive a list
of hotels in the area. The map was long gone.
I zoomed in as tight as possible on both maps and they covered just
about the same area. The MapQuest map included one-way street arrows; MSN
MapPoint's map did not. I clicked on the lower right corner of each map to
cause it to center on that point. MapQuest took about 6 seconds, MSN
MapPoint, about 2.
Next, I asked for directions from my house to a town 20 miles north.
MapQuest allowed me to build a rather complex query. I chose the
language for my directions and whether I preferred kilometers or miles. I
could also choose a variety of combinations of maps and text. I had an
option to avoid toll roads and ferry lanes, though I could not request the
shortest rather than the quickest route. When the directions were
returned, there were two additional tabs available: "shortest"
and "avoid highways" in addition to the default of
"quickest." The route was highlighted on the map and included a
reference to a roundabout, the British term for a rotary. The Web page for
printing came up very fast.
MSN MapPoint allowed me to choose from miles or kilometers and quickest
or shortest. The written directions seemed fine, though they, too,
mentioned a roundabout. Tracing of the route on the map is not yet
available, though planned. The printer friendly version of the directions
and map Web page took 25 or 30 seconds to complete.
Both services allowed me to print or email my directions, but MapQuest
had tools to download it to a PDA, reverse the directions and find
locations along the way.
The final tally: MSN MapPoint wins on map aesthetics and speed of
panning and zooming. MapQuest wins on everything else. Still, this is
Microsoft's first foray into this type of online mapping so stay tuned.