New Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D – Not a Threat to Google Earth

[NOTE: see my new more detailed look at Virtual Earth’s 3D product.]
Today Microsoft has released 3D capability to Virtual Earth ( 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.]

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. I dont agree with you Frank, I see it as a huge threat for GE in the long run.
    Google has 2 different applications web based maps & Google Earth. So developer has to write for 2 engines if he wants to have both 2d & 3d view. Although kml implementation in google maps is definatelly cool its not the same as native API of VE for 2d and 3d application.
    At this point I find that 3d VE works a bit slow and is not as interactive as GE but … VE seems to be better positioned for application development ( collections, ability to draw polygons, and now 3d view )
    So let the giants fight … and at the end of the day end user (us ) will be a winner πŸ™‚

  2. Well it’s maybe not a threat to guys like you, but since the majority of users live up to the requirements for VE3D, I still thing this is a killer app in many ways. And btw, there are 3D buildings in way more than 15 cities – I guess they are just not finished yet and therefore not featured. For instance check out London and New York. It also seems to handle large sets of 3D buildings, which GE does very poorly.
    And this is the first beta release from Microsoft, which already looks way better than Google Earth which is at v4.
    I especially like that you run SP1, but for security reasons don’t run IE. If you were really serious about security, you would be at SP2 long ago.

  3. I tried to use VE3D here in New Zealand, the install process takes a while, then informs me that my region is not yet supported. No VE3D for me!

  4. Hi Frank – I emailed you earlier that there would be some info making its way around for non IE6/IE7 users soon. Here is the start of that:
    David is a developer on the VE team. this story shows how to build plugins for the VE 3d Control in winform apps outside of the browser. Really quite slick. i know, i’m biased and all, but run his plugin. Fun!
    It will allow you to cruise around in the Virtual Earth, without the need to install IE. It will also help rid your town of Ghosts.

  5. Steve, I know I’m a bit unusual not having the right specs as a Windows user. Although, I still think it is a “sin” not supporting other browsers (is it the ActiveX Control use?). I will shortly have a machine with the right specs and will write an updated story based on my own use then. Since I don’t have the specs, I can’t run the Ghosts demo either.
    I do think that Microsoft’s model of supporting 3D in the browser is the better route for the future. And, my guess is that Google will go that route ultimately as well. However, I hope Google is able to preserve its easy-to-use interface if/when they transition to a browser-based interface.

  6. I disagree, Frank. I’m a GIS professional with a unique perspective that I should not discuss, but I see this a major threat to Google Earth. Especially if they release whatever it is that they need to install with the next version of Internet Explorer or…Vista. If they succeed in creating a thin client alternative to GE, I think they’d be in a great position. Remember, just becuase you don’t use IE doesn’t mean the largest clients in the world don’t too (i.e. US Government, etc.).

  7. someone recorded the ghostbuster plugin and put the video here:
    there are lots of reasons we chose our first release to run in the browser and behave like a website should behave (bookmarks, permalinks, sharing, etc…) but one of the best is javascript programability. In the same way that you can access all of Virtual Earth’s 2d functionality via a simple javascript API, the 3d control is wrapped in the SAME javascript API. for users, not such a big deal initially, but if you’re a developer this is sick. you can add 3d maps to your own applications and mashups with about 5 lines of javascript. Check this out and view the source of the page down at the end of this blog post:!2BBC66E99FDCDB98!7573.entry
    the API exposes methods for controlling camera, content, layers, etc… more details in the interactive SDK –

  8. For me it says:
    “Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D (Beta) currently does not support your region or language.”
    I don’t live in the US, but I run a US English version of Windows XP.

  9. For people outside the US: Temporarily change your regional settings (with control panel) to English-US before installing and revert back after the installation is finished. Works fine for me, but as Microsoft programs often mess around with Windows internals in obscure ways, use this at your own risk.

  10. The first thing I thought about when reading this is that if one respond to the launching the of a competitive application like this, your loosing it.
    I see this as a seed to akind of “pc vs mac” war.
    Please, stick to what you are doing instead of talking about what the other guy is not doing.
    Its beneath you.

  11. I’m happy for Microsoft, it’s mean they still working hard in the tecnology market but I think google earth is much better then they new tool.

  12. The key thing is for Google Earth to keep up, and stay ahead.
    I would certainly like to see much more of rural areas covered in high rez. I know that the aerial photos exist.
    As well as kmls that port the VE imagry into GE. πŸ˜‰

  13. Not to jump on the ‘I disagree’ bandwagon, but it seems a bit naive to decide that the app is no threat to your product based solely on reviews.
    As if I said Google Earth is no threat to Virtual Earth, though I didn’t try it because I didn’t want to download it.
    I imagine you have actually downloaded the service pack and plugin, it’d be bad business not to evaluate your competitor’s product. You could probably make the point that Virtual Earth has restrictive system requirements some other way.

  14. I’m not surprised that MS’s astroturfers are posting comments in a coordinated effort on MS’s part to discredit the innovaters at Google.
    What most consumers will fail to see is that most of the time they use an MS product, it’s like putting a pair of handcuffs on.
    Right now, the handcuffs are loose and don’t get in the way. The 2.0 version of their GIS application will have fewer features, higher prices and little, if any innovation because they leverage their monopoly in desktops and intentionally limit innovation.
    Most users will choose the handcuffs because they look good today. Tomorrow, they won’t be able to get out of them.

  15. I just wanted to point out to commenters that this blog is not written by a Google employee. Rest assured we are taking notice!
    It’s a good showing from Microsoft and the VE team should be proud of what they’ve built.

  16. I don’t think the limitations you list are a huge problem – MS Virtual Earth is compatible with what the vast majority of people are running – Windows XP, SP2, with IE 6. The idea that Google can run outside of that platform gives it some kind of ‘big’ advantage just doesn’t ring true when you consider that those who do run outside that platform, are very much in the minority.
    MSVE will be accessible to a very large number of users, judging it against current ‘alternative geek’ standards is just not fair.

  17. OK. So, what was the second thing you thought?

  18. IΒ΄m sorry for you Frank. It seems like you are on top of very high heels. ItΒ΄s clear to see MS as a great competitor, as their product has some advantages over yours. I?m a huge Google fan, use almost all products by Google, published a lot of buildings in Google Earth that I mapped myself in SketchUp.
    Remember Sun Tsu when dealing with MS. You better know your enemy, even more than you know yourself.

  19. You could’ve just said that they copied it, and they do have better textures. But those improvements are trivial.
    The whole SP1 / IE rant is just to prove GE has less requirements for the install, but it a bit of a cheap shot though.
    I wonder when they’ll integrate it with the 3d photo stitching application I saw a few months ago.
    btw, I like GE more though πŸ™‚ but that wasn’t the point I was trying to make.

  20. Paul Mcabee says

    Um, your argument is that you don’t run IE and SP2, and that means MS Earth is not a threat.
    But… most people use IE, and have SP2 installed, so, for most people, this argument is a non-starter. Your argument is that because 5% of the population can’t run it, no one will run it, hmm.
    Also, if you are concerned about security on XP, you should run SP2, not having it could be a problem.

  21. Did you really even want to try it out in the first place? “Only running Firefox” is a lame excuse. I mean, do you not have IE installed on your computer?

  22. Former Google Fan says

    You are nuts. 1) You didn’t even test the product yourself. 2) It doesn’t require seperate applications and development. And 3) The still very small alternative browser market means diddly still at this stage… delivering a browser based tool with full 3D functionality is huge alone, and their future developments/add-ons already well under way will serve to seperate it further from the now lowly google earth.
    As for the IE and XP SP2 drivel… you should learn to properly secure your home network and practice good computing rules in your daily life as it relates to running foriegn and unknown software and keeping your OS and software properly patched. Complain all you like about it, but in the end it is ultimately YOUR FAULT for not securing your network and PC and keeping it up to date.

  23. It definitely has a “wow” factor, but I don’t know how practical and useful it is without more complete coverage. If *anybody* is going to put in this type of data (3d buildings) they should figure out a way to do it so that it’s complete.
    Given the scope of that endeavor, I just don’t see that happening with any mapping product in the near future. It would be nice to be wrong πŸ™‚
    I do wonder how committed MS is to providing complete data for the buildings. A wiki style way of adding buildings might work. But this still seems like a monumental task. Even doing one city (completely) seems like more effort than it’s worth at this point in time.
    So I can speculate that the practical purpose of this release is to publicize VE. And frankly I don’t see anything wrong with that, but it’s still all show and no substance.
    Hats off to MS though – it *is* a good show. But they are known for releasing products with initial wow factor and then ignoring them (IE6 anyone?).
    So other than the neat (limited) cityscapes… what’s really new and useful here? It almost seems like we’re back in 1999 and the days of “This Site Best Viewed In [Netscape 4/IE]” or the five million proprietary browser plugins to do things that look cool but serve no real need.

  24. So you’re commenting on a piece of software you haven’t even used?
    How are you any authority to provide a review of it?
    You could’ve at least tried it on the “unsafe” browser that is IE… πŸ˜‰

  25. I agree with izo about having two development environments. It took a lot of effort to develop a Google Maps version of our site. I am not sure others would do the same. It took quite a bit of coding for Google Maps to be able to
    1) Read a KML file.
    2) Have the “placemarks” respond to mouse-over and mouse-click events.
    3) Display the “placemarks” in a tree-view on the left side of the screen.
    4) Respond to mouse-wheel zoom.
    5) Display a “balloon” box that does not make the map jump around.
    6) Accommodate the fact that Google Earth balloons are formatted without HTML “styles” whereas Google Maps is formatted with “styles”.
    It would be nice if the Google Maps API did this right out of the box. Our implementation is just a rough draft and barely scratches the surface of what could be done.
    My concern is that many people will say that it is too much work to implement both products in the current environment.

  26. {sarcasim} This is definately not biased {/sarcasim}
    Seriously…It’s your own fault it doesn’t work for you. And hey, if you don’t like windows or Microsoft, then don’t use their OS.

  27. The folks at Google have a real opportunity here. I just tried to download the Virtual Earth app from Microsoft’s site to check it out. However, I am on a Mac…an Intel-based MacBook Pro, to be exact. Virtual Earth will only run in a Microsoft Browser in a Microsoft environment! Amazing! If Google can capitalize on this shortcoming, they should have a real advantage! Don’t lose this race to Microsoft like Netscape did, guys! Kick some bootay!!!

  28. Mike Graham says

    I’m a Google fan. I love to use Google Earth, and have even used it to look at Google’s campus, where I know all my other favourite Google things are developed.
    That being said, I don’t think the analysis here was entirely fair. Running Internet Explorer on a computer with XP SP2 is not a huge hurdle: that describes a huge part of the market. The need to install a plug-in is, as you point out, not so different from GE’s need for the download and installation of the GE client.
    Other factors, like continued awesome development and good marketing are what will decide dominance here, if indeed there is a clear dominating 3D map-showing system when all is said and done. Many of us will be apt to stick with GE; we love Google. Many will stumble upon 3-D VE and find it suits them. For a better product, I doubt there is a huge chunk of the population Microsoft has any desire to appeal to who will not be willing to open up IE to do it. I haven’t opened IE on a computer I own for months (and do very rarely in the office), but I know I would if I thought it actually could gain me something.

  29. tongueincheek says

    See, Frank, you’re a bit like Microsoft in that you require that everyone post comments in English (i.e. “everyone has to use IE”). What you should do is allow people to post comments in any language they wanted, then display the comments in whatever language the readers want (i.e. “3D VE should run in all browsers natively”)

  30. remember Google Earth 4 and VE 4 Local Live are ‘Beta’
    we are just beta testers….
    there are other 3D apps released.
    skyline global works just as good as GE and VE
    which has a desktop and web version.

  31. From history.
    In 1999 (2000) MS $ Visio and remove Visio Maps&Tech (in 2000 Visio Maps + Visio CAD imho “best in class” solutions). Last steps i see as answer to Google only. While it is not himself steps.
    MS VE see to my very nice. MS can make very good system near time. Guys from MS is very good developers. I see good ideas for .NET developers. GIS it is system and not program only πŸ™‚ Now GE vs VG it is good or bad solution of managers and gis specialists. If Google not repeat errors of MS with Visio then we see next time new solutions.
    MS have more experience as firm. Google have more fantasy and ideas.
    This is play with the equal chances. This is very interesting.

    • I’ve been using Creately online diagramming and collaboration software. It has everything Visio has even the import is supported

  32. John Chesterton says

    There are some fair comments here but I have tried VE but it seems like nothing but a dumbed down copy of Google Earth. It was difficult to install as i don’t live in the US either but im sure that issue will be sorted. I wouldn’t mind someone commenting on the user ability to add 3D objects, placemarks or overlays and create their own layers.
    It will be interesting in the coming years as the competition heats up and MS actually brings some new concepts to the table.
    Google will find the competition stimulating and is already far ahead of what MS has launched.
    Google has also been quick to add new features and change its products in response to comments received in places such as this.
    But hey do we really want just one virtual globe controlled by one company? (or one browser for that matter?)
    In closing, good for you Frank. I enjoy your blog. Nothing like a provocative headline to get the discussion going!

  33. David Hancock says

    I find it funny you say VE 3D is free. If it requires windows for IE, wouldn’t you be REQUIRED to BUY windows to use it, therefore, it’s not free???
    GE is usable on the most popular (secure) operating systems.

  34. Hey dude, actually the only thing that you credit M$ for having implemented it in Virtual Earth 3D is the textured buildings. Well, even that is not their creative hard work since it comes from a company that they bought called Vexcel to do the job.
    Personally the only thing that I find interesting in the application is the keyboard controls. The rest is just mediocre, given the level of expection that one should have from M$ and the stiff competition that they are facing…
    So boooo Microsoft, booo!….

  35. “I find it funny you say VE 3D is free. If it requires windows for IE, wouldn’t you be REQUIRED to BUY windows to use it, therefore, it’s not free???”
    Poor argument since unless you are a magician, you did pay for your hardware. By your logic everything costs money. *shurg*
    Lets face it, we can argue until we are blue in the face about this kind of stuff, but until there is “open source” hardware one can’t really claim that they are completely free (if you have figured out this one please let me know, I’d love free hardware).

  36. I feel VE 3D is a threat to google earth because of its textured output. it is so cool and it takes you close to reality and windows requirement doesn’t matter. only 15% of wolrd dont use windows. so the other 85% of them can have fun with this. if you have windows xp sp2. It is an Amazing software.

  37. Well I have XP SP2 and IE and still cannot run this 3D thing. I guess I take security and viruses too seriously as I have ActiveX turned off etc, generally use firefox all the time. So i tried IE6 with active X on just for msn website only to find it says im still too secure to run it. Why does MS want me to make my PC less secure? I though Vista was going to make it more secure not less? I have a PC and MAC at home, so I am hoping Google catches up…

  38. Gah! I’ve got SP2 and IE7, and this useless activex crud crashes my machine every time I run it.

  39. I have windows ME is there a loop hole to get this to work without changing OS?

  40. thanks for sharing

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.