the good, the bad, and the ugly: microsoft's new katrina photomaps


One of the things I've been using--and pointing people to--since Katrina is Google's brilliant "Katrina" button, which they implemented a few days after the flooding. In addition to their map, satellite, and hybrid views, they added a bright red Katrina view, which showed satellite photos as of 8/31.

While the idea was excellent, the execution was somewhat limited. The photos weren't very detailed, making it hard to assess damage in specific spots (an important task for people with homes or businesses in New Orleans). And worse, a number of areas of the city were completely missing--so when I searched for a friend's house, I got a big blank spot on the map. (click image for larger version)


Today, I found that MSN's Virtual Earth had launched something similar, but with flyover photos (not just satellite) taken last week. These photos, taken from low-flying airplanes rather than orbiting satellites, show a much higher level of detail. Better still, they include the area where my friends live (which, alas, appears to still be underwater. From the standpoint of someone who needs real information about their property in New Orleans, there's no question that the MSN implementation is far more useful. It also offers a side-by-side before and after view that allows you to pan in tandem, which is also quite useful. (again, click the image for the larger version)


So why the title?

The good is obvious. This is a very helpful tool that addresses many of the shortcomings of Google Maps' Katrina view.

The bad is that it was slow, and once again, looks too much like a me-too attempt after Google has innovated. It doesn't matter if the ideas were born at the same time--what matters is that Google captured the mindshare by bringing something out fast when people were starved for information.

The ugly is that it only works in IE on a PC.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

People like Google because their tools just work--regardless of your platform or your browser. They don't require you to change the way you work and the tools you use in order to get access to the features they're offering.

Why can't Microsoft do the same? Why, oh why, do they have to design all of their coolest technology only for those who agree to use their browser on their operating system? It's not just an issue of market share. It's an issue of mindshare, and goodwill, and getting your products to be adopted and championed by opinion leaders.

If Microsoft wants to compete in the brave new world of web 2.0, they're going to have to start designing web sites that just work, rather than crippling them by using technologies that aren't cross-platform and cross-browser.


I completely agree with you. If I wanted to watch either a music video from Vh1 or watch news clips from MSNBC, I have to leave the comfortable environment of Firefox to open up the horrible IE and watch my computer slowly die from loss of memory.

Virtual Earth is an interesting application that I did not know about until I read your blog. It shows me my hometown in satelite, whereas Google could not. Neat!

Excellent rundown of the pros and cons of these two tools!

I've run across a Firefox extension that opens up links in IE and so far it seems to work very well, though, like you, I wish I didn't have to go to this much effort just to use a site or tool. Heck, I wish that IE and Microsoft web products would do everything I want (tabbed browsing, not throwing proprietary tags at everything so that they break in other browsers and the code becomes incredibly bloated or feeling like I'm browsing inside one big security risk due to all the virii written that target IE). If that was the case, I'd have been happy to stick with IE.

Hey, and guess what? Pictometry is a Rochester, NY-based company. :-) They're getting a lot of press as a result of these images (which have been on the national news as well).

Actually, neither Google's Picasa nor Google Earth are available for the Mac. And you must have IE installed for Picasa to work, though you don't need to use it as your default browser.

Mark, that's true, but I'm talking specifically about web services here. All of Google's web services work cross-platform and cross-browser. Many (if not most) of Microsoft's don't.

In this case, Virtual Earth isn't competing with Google Earth (despite the similarity in names)--it's competing with Google Maps.

I'm surprised that you are surprised!

The Google goal in life is to make the web a better place for everybody. This way, everybody who uses the web gets to see the advertisements in the sidebar, and google makes money.

The Microsoft goal in life is computing hegemony.
They try to achieve this by doing exactly the type of activity that you allude to above - take a good idea, do a 'better' implementation, and then make it incompatible with non-microsoft products. That ultimately creates the impression that microsoft products are 'better', and so microsoft makes money.

I prefer firefox, but I keep ie on my toolbar as well, because about 5-10% of sites just dont work with FF.

Interestingly, Apple are trying the hegemony game as well. ( but everybody LOVES Apple! ) Initially, itunes worked only on macs for example, and even now, its easier to manage your music with an ipod than with a player from another manufacturer.

The web is still young and immature. Corporations are still trying to figure out how to make money, build market share, and stay ahead in the webspace. A key strategy for many is trying to tie consumers to their own particular platform. As a consumer your choices are

- buy microsoft & dont worry about it
- buy microsoft but use FF as much as possible
- take classes & install linux
- buy Apple, & live with higher prices, poor customer support, & only 90% interop.

This is not a good thing.


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This page contains a single entry published on September 15, 2005 1:19 PM.

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