The user is always in the drivers seat and can do searches while in navigation mode, giving the user the control, unlike search, where it feels like the "black box" is in the drivers seat, he said. "This is totally different to what Google Earth provides. Unlike their gray boxes, we thought the real world should really look like the real world. We went and did something that has never been done before and is a total game-changer," Lawler said.This is very different from what Sketchup produced, he said. Read more here about Sketchup. There is also an active community outside of Microsoft developing applications around this technology, which are shared with one another and which are not vetted by Microsoft. "Eventually we will also let them do 3-D creation in areas that we dont get to," Lawler said, adding that Microsofts approach has significantly reduced the cost of real-life 3-D modeling. The service is targeted at three classes of users: the consumer, businesses and enterprises, and developers. On the consumer side, advertisements will be available within the Virtual Earth 3-D experience and will be presented similar to billboards on the side of roads. These ads are created using a combination of technologies from Virtual Earth, Massive Inc. and the advertising platform from Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions. The billboards will be dynamic rather than static, and will be located in fixed locations. There will be no pop-ups and, in the future, the ads on these virtual billboards will probably be tailored to match what the user is searching for, Lawler said. There are some 1,000 businesses currently using the Microsoft platforminternally and externally, from realtors to oil producerswho want to monitor their most critical assets, reach out to customers, offer them an immersive experience and increase customer satisfaction, he said. Click here to read more about Google Earth. "For example, British Petroleum used the platform for an executive digital dashboard. They had a picture of the Gulf area and, using Virtual Earth, they overlaid their offshore oil rigs and had real-time information about the people on those rigs as well as live feeds from other Web services like ocean currents and hurricane weather services," Lawler said. This allows them to monitor their most important assets and make mission-critical decisions, he said, noting that this is a nonadvertising platform for these users, including JW Marriott and Expedia, who pay for the service on a transaction basis. On the developer front, this is the first platform that allows developers to mash up 3-D, Lawler said, noting that switching to 3-D requires just one parameter change to their existing application. "All the application programming interfaces [APIs] are the same, as are all the calls, and they toggle back and forth between 3-D and birds-eye view," he said. "We have removed all the complexity and built in the control so developers have a lot of power on our unique platform." Developers can also use the Virtual Earth 3-D to build these search capabilities into their own applications and Web sites. This and other APIs for Live Search are offered at no cost to them, but they can get additional support and other benefits through a service-level agreement with Microsoft, Lawler said. Editors Note: This story was updated to include information and comments from Microsoft. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.
The 300 staff members on the Virtual Earth team, many of whom hold advanced degrees like Ph.Ds, built a software pipeline using algorithms that automatically build the geometric features and the textured models.