Yesterday’s rumor of an imminent live beta of Windows Live Local was slightly premature. The beta officially starts today at 9:01 AM Pacific Time (press release, FAQ, screenshots) although it is available right now at http://local.live.com/ and there have been a number of reports from Microsoft bloggers overnight who had been kicking the tires – see Adi Oltean, Mujtaba Syed, “Vik“, and “mayurk“.
My own tire kicking has been cursory, but the beta seems to me to have achieved full parity with Google Maps in terms of “Web 2.0″ interface and functionality with pushpins, driving directions, and business listings. In fact, doing a side by side comparison of the two stoplight town where Hunter Strategies is located, Windows Live Local turned up more business listings than Google Maps.
Of course, if you live in selected urban areas, you can also see the slick “bird’s eye” imagery based on photographs from low flying planes from Pictometry International Corp. The MapPoint B2B blog has a more complete list of available cities than what is in the online help as well as a brief tutorial on using the bird’s eye interface.
One other point worth noting is that the contextual ads displayed in the sidebar when searching on businesses are provided by Overture, the Yahoo subsidiary, NOT by Microsoft.
Updates: Elinor Mills at CNET:
Microsoft plans to expand the bird’s-eye view coverage with its exclusive partnership with Pictometry to cover as much as 90 percent of the U.S. population, which means the big cities but not all the “corn farms in Nebraska,” said Stephen Lawler, general manager for MapPoint and MSN Virtual Earth. The bird’s-eye images are also likely to be refreshed every year, with areas such as the tree-filled northeast updated during the winter when the leaves are not obscuring the view, he added.
Elizabeth Montalbano at PCWorld:
Microsoft plans to offer a full-production version of Windows Live Local in the first half of 2006, Lombardi said. He said that the company is currently expanding the service’s geographic coverage to put it on a par with the coverage provided by MSN’s Maps and Directions search product, which covers 30 countries.
Microsoft has added the United Kingdom to the second beta of Windows Live Local, but plans to expand far beyond that, Lombardi said. Once Windows Live Local can deliver local search information for at least as many countries as Maps and Directions, Microsoft will “remove the beta label,” he said.
Microsoft also plans to enhance the kind of information that users can search for through the service, going beyond business information and directions to reach specific local events, user favorites, and other information from sources other than standard Yellow Pages, Lombardi said.