Microsoft takes on AOL's MapQuest
By Yardena Arar
(IDG) -- Move over, MapQuest: Microsoft is getting into the online mapping software business. MSN's newly-launched MapPoint service offers online maps, driving directions, and many of the other features that have made AOL's MapQuest so popular. (AOL Time Warner is the parent company of CNN.com.)
Microsoft is positioning MSN MapPoint as a service of its strategic .Net Web-based offerings. However, at Thursday's formal launch it looks more like a strong competitor to MapQuest -- with hooks to other MSN services. For example, to get traffic reports, you're directed to MSN CarPoint site.
One unusual MSN MapPoint feature is a phone-based direction service. Dial 1-800-555-TELL, tell the automated voice-recognition service where you are and where you want to go, and it will read back to you the same directions you'd get from the Web service.
Microsoft is touting the XML-based service's speed and user-friendly interface, but admits it does not yet have everything you get from MapQuest maps. Specifically, at launch you don't see the route marked when you generate a map showing directions between two points: Only the start and finish points are marked.
"MapQuest has a couple of things they don't have yet, but you can never overlook the clout of Microsoft," says Van Barker, an analyst with Gartner Group. "They'll have lots of opportunities to take other MSN properties and point them to MapPoint."
More to Come
Other industry observers say MapPoint will become more interesting as it is integrated with additional Microsoft .Net services. For example, you might someday be able to click on a Windows Messenger buddy's name and retrieve a map showing the location of his or her home.
"It's an interesting part of a much broader picture for Microsoft," says David Sonnen, senior consultant on spatial information management for the research firm IDC. "You're going to see Microsoft offering location services as part of .Net. This is the first little indication that they're serious about location-specific technologies. And of course they have the horsepower to bring this to market."
Sonnen says location-based services will become more important as wireless devices gain popularity.
"Eventually .Net will give the location-services developer a way to develop wireless services pretty easily," Sonnen adds.
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