Microsoft Bing Maps Silverlight Is No Longer Beta

Microsoft announces that the Bing Maps Silverlight site is no longer being beta tested and has gained two new features: Local Events, which displays the day's happenings on a map of a particular area, and Destination Maps, which can render a selected portion of a map in a variety of fanciful styles with names such as Treasure Map. Users attempting to visit the original Bing Maps AJAX site will be asked if they want to install Silverlight.

Microsoft has declared its Bing Maps Silverlight site, which offers viewing options such as Streetside and Enhanced Bird's Eye, to be no longer a beta.

"We're ripping the beta tag off the Bing Maps Silverlight site and going [full-bore] with continuing innovation on Bing," Chris Pendleton, Bing Maps technical evangelist, wrote in a Jan. 19 post on the Bing Community blog. "The removal of the beta tag was done in parallel with [adding] a couple of new features and Bing Maps Application Gallery mash-ins."

The Silverlight beta version of Bing Maps made its debut Dec. 2. Constructing the entire site using Silverlight allowed Microsoft to build in a variety of flashy features, including Streetside and Enhanced Bird's Eye, designed to give users a more real-world view of terrain.

Users attempting to visit the Bing Maps AJAX site-referred to by Pendleton as "Big Maps Classic"-with Silverlight installed will likely be redirected to the Bing Maps Silverlight site, at least if those users are accessing Bing Maps within the United States. Users attempting to access the Bing Maps AJAX site without Silverlight installed will be prompted to download and install the program.

Microsoft has also added two new applications to the Bing Maps Application Gallery, both available only in Silverlight. The first application, Local Events, studs a map with pins showing the day's happenings, each with clickable information about event times, street addresses, directions and so on. For example, Local Events activated in conjunction with a map of Seattle on Jan. 20 displayed proceedings such as "Weekly Open Mic" at the Skylark Caf??« & Club on 3803 Delridge Way SW.

The second application, Destination Maps, lets users specify a location such as a house or business and then have that map rendered in one of four styles, "Sketchy," "European," "American" and "Treasure Map," the last of which displays streets and other points of interest in rough charcoal lines and renders names in a font that looks like handwriting, in what is evidently supposed to be the vaguely unsteady hand of a buccaneer.

"These apps are only the beginning," Pendleton wrote. "You see it coming? A massive wave is upon you. Get ready."

Microsoft has been updating Bing frequently as it attempts to gain market share for the search engine. A Jan. 15 note from research company ComScore indicated that Bing held 10.7 percent of the market, while Yahoo occupied 17.3 percent and Google 65.7 percent. Bing's U.S. market share might increase substantially once the search and advertising deal between Microsoft and Yahoo, which will see Bing power search on Yahoo's sites, goes into effect at some point in 2010.

In addition to increasing the functionality of Bing Maps, Microsoft has given its search engine a number of other features over the last quarter, including a more robust video page that integrates feeds from sources such as Hulu, MSN Video and ABC. A Bing Bar for Internet Explorer and Firefox offers Search Assist, which auto-suggests searches and images for queries entered into the search box, and Browse Plus, which automatically pulls requested content from across the Web.