While Google Maps looks almost exactly the same as it did when it launched, Microsoft is finding new ways to cram features into Windows Live Local.
The new release of Live Local includes traffic reports. One click gets you all the traffic alerts in your current view (U.S. only, for now). Another click shows scheduled slowdowns, like construction and the end of baseball games.
An even cooler new feature are Collections. Previously, you could place pushpins all over the map and copy a permalink for it that was something like 2-300 characters long. Now, once you have some chosen locations, you can save it as a collection. Then, you can come back to it, add items to it, reorder it, and share it with anyone via a much shorter URL.
Here are four New York-area sports arenas:
That took me all of a minute to put together. You can’t do that with Google Maps. You find other people’s collection and save them as favorites, and every time you visit Live Local (while signed into Windows Live ID), they will be sitting there waiting for you.
There are a few other user interface tweaks. Search results slide out from the left side, which, besides looking cooler, makes them feel like they are taking up less space.
There is also an Outlook add-in coming. It lets you map your appointment and meeting directions, print detailed maps, estimate travel times, share those location details (even with people who don’t have the add-in) and find points of interest (like restaurants and hotels) near your meeting. Not sure if it works with Outlook 2007, since the download isn’t available yet.
There have also been some added API options for mashups, which you can find more detail on at the Virtual Earth blog. From the release:
Virtual Earth map control was also released today, enabling developers to bring the same great mapping, imagery and local search capabilities into their business applications and â€œmashupsâ€ (Web applications that seamlessly combine content from more than one source). Virtual Earth map control is available to all developers free of charge for limited use and can be licensed for commercial service and support along with the rest of the Virtual Earth platform components. Windows Live Local is built on the Virtual Earth platform, and includes Virtual Earth map control. Key new features include support for address lookups and driving directions, improved local search functionality, and the ability to easily display standard data sets and Windows Live Local user Collections.
The MSN Virtual Earth platform also promises easy, flexible programming and builds on Microsoftâ€™s long-term commitment to the Web development community. The Virtual Earth API allows developers to embed Virtual Earthâ€™s rich mapping capabilities into their own Web pages. Customers in vertical markets, such as commercial and residential real estate and travel and hospitality, have benefited extensively after implementing the Virtual Earth platform as a means to boost online presence and functionality. Developer information can be found at the MapPointÂ® Developer Center on MSDNÂ® (http://msdn.microsoft.com/mappoint) and the group blog (http://blogs.msdn.com/virtualearth).
And, as if that wasn’t enough, they’ve expanded into England and Canada! This is spectacular. These updates, besides makign for a much deeper and better-to-use product, send a message that Microsoft is determined to make Live Local the best mapping product. So far, they’re pulling it off.