[NOTE: see my new more detailed look at Virtual Earth's 3D product.]
Today Microsoft has released 3D capability to Virtual Earth (local.live.com). They are saying they don’t require you to run a separate application (although, since you have to download and install a 5 Mbyte browser plug-in, I don’t see that as exactly true). Once you have the required plug-in, turn on ActiveX controls, and meet other system requirements, you can run it in your Internet Explorer. I’d like to say I tried the new Virtual Earth 3D feature. But, unfortunately I can’t run it. It requires Internet Explorer 6 or 7 (I only run Firefox). And, it requires Windows XP SP2 (for a variety of reasons I only use SP1 on my primary 3D desktop – and for security reasons is why I don’t run IE). Also, of course, if you use a Mac or Linux you can’t use it.
One nice thing Microsoft has implemented in the new 3D feature (based on a video demonstration and screenshots published by CNET) is photo-based textured 3D buildings for 15 cities. The city shown does indeed look quite good in the VE 3D demonstration, and – as we’ve seen with GE 4 – photo textured buildings are much better than the plain gray 3D buildings shown in GE for 38 cities (plus many cities in Japan). The CNET video reviewer gets some facts wrong: Google Earth can show photo-realistic buildings, and you don’t need to use Google Maps to see road maps or any of the dozens of other layers of information built-in to Google Earth (which are unmatched by Microsoft or anyone else).
Anyway, with all the limitations (IE, XP SP2, plug-in, etc.) I don’t really see this as a big threat to Google Earth. But, Microsoft does continue to nibble away at the unique features provided by Google Earth – at least in theory. If you are a Microsoft devotee, I guess you will be happy. But, if you are a Mac/Linux/Firefox/Opera type – forget it.
[Update 7-Nov-2006 1600 ET: Just to clarify my blog entry here - I wrote the above right after the release of VE 3D to the public (within the first hour of its release yesterday). I had high expectations for VE when it went 3D, so my initial impressions were a disappointment since it only ran on Microsoft OS in the IE browser. I clearly stated I did not try it myself, and my blog is obviously Google Earth-centric. Read my new "real look" at VE3D.]