Microsoft Launches MSN MapPoint

Microsoft Launches MSN MapPoint

by Adena Schutzberg, from GIS Monitor 24, 2002


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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 to 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.