Microsoft Launches Bing Map Beta

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For all intents and purposes, Bing Maps Beta, which went live Wednesday, is uncannily similar to Google Maps, but distinguishes itself with a few innovative tweaks.

For one, there's Bing's Streetside, paralleling Google's Street View feature, which allows users to take a virtual walk through any city street with a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding buildings and landmarks.

Both Bing's and Google's applications are almost identical. But those taking a stroll via Bing Streetside will have the ability to move with a special "light speed" feature that blurs the passing scenery, as well as zoom in and out on specific locations. Users will also have access to vector information drawn into the images illustrating street direction and street names hovering above the streets.

Specifically, Bing relies on Microsoft's Photosynth technology, an application that integrates numerous photos into a 3-D montage that gives users the sense that they're walking into their images. Bing users can then rotate the comprehensive image to view details from various three dimensional vantages.

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Bing's Streetside is coupled with its new Enhanced Bird's Eye feature, which gives the user an aerial view of the chosen location. Enhanced Bird's Eye is automatically adjusted based on whether the user is viewing an urban landscape or a rural one.

Bing also comes with a new Applications Gallery, a catalogue designed to streamline searches and bookmark favorite applications built within Bing Maps. Users can peruse applications or local content sources associated with cities and a few specific neighborhoods on Bing Maps, or search map-based news articles.

Additionally, the Application Gallery provides the user with a series of map overlays, allowing them to perform multiple searches by adding different content layers to the map at once, including tweets, local blogs, business listings and Photosynth, enabling users to add various applications to their maps at their discretion.

One drawback, however, is that Bing Streetside doesn't appear to be nearly as comprehensive as Google Streetview. And, of course, in order to take advantage of Bing's new features, users will be required to install Microsoft Silverlight 3.