The last couple of decades have seen a revolution in user apps which offer location awareness and guidance. Automotive sat-navs were available some years ago, dating back to Honda’s electro Gyro-cator (now that’s a name) in 1986. CD and HDD based satnavs in cars became available over the years since, but typically were many thousands of dollars/pounds/etc as an option.
Google Earth was first launched in 2001 as a desktop app, and Google Maps followed in the browser, a few years later. Microsoft launched “Virtual Earth” shortly after that, though it was initially more like “Virtual North America” as its global coverage was very lacking. Over time, Bing Maps launched a bunch of innovative services, like Birds Eye, which used licensed 3rd party images from spotter planes to stitch together a “45 degree” view rather than the typical straight-overhead aerial view.
The source data for Birds Eye is a little out of date in some areas – though is still being updated in, er, North America (eg. see here and here), and maybe in other areas over time too. Point Birds Eye at Microsoft’s UK campus, and it shows Building 5 under construction, so the images are at least 8 years old, though since they no dates other than “© 2020”, there’s no obvious way to tell.
Google’s Street View shows the dates of images if there are multiple – click the down arrow next to “Street View” in the top left to view the history.
as well as rowing back some of the nagging to get Edge browser users to move to Chrome, Google released Google Earth in the browser – it’s maybe not quite so smooth as the desktop app, but it’s quick to use – … see Microsoft UK’s TVP campus, here.
The Washington Post reports that Google changes the view of maps depending on the country the user is in, removing disputed borders and the likes – so it’s a complicated world. According to that same article, Bing Maps is a very minor player in map usage, with Apple Maps (after an inauspicious start) has grown to be the second-most-used mapping platform, due to mobile usage, either on the Maps app directly or via other 3rd party apps which use location-awareness from the mobile device.
Bing Maps is used in many online services and other apps, however – like Microsoft’s forthcoming reboot of Flight Simulator, which supposedly features every airport in the world and uses data from Bing Maps, real-time weather reports and rendering in Azure, to provide a realistic flying view. There are some amazing videos on the Flight Simulator channel.
The Bird’s Eye view is/was one of the nicest bits in Bing Maps (get there quickly, at www.bingmaps.com – did you know you can type simply bingmaps in the address bar of Edge or Chrome, and press CTRL-ENTER to add the www and .com bits?).
The Eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that some changes have happened… clicking on the drop-down control to change the map type no longer shows Birds Eye – instead, if you right-click on a point on the map, you may get the option of viewing in bird’s eye view, and maybe streetside (though don’t expect the same level of coverage of Google Street View, at least if you’re outside the US).
If the bird’s eye option is greyed out, that means the view is not available – or no longer available, as out of date maps have been temporarily removed from the platform. Or at least removed from being easily found – if the missing area is on a boundary between data sets that are being updated, it may be possible to find a nearby place, and scroll across to find the view you’d originally searched for.
If selecting the view doesn’t work for you, try clicking on the “hamburger” menu in the top right, and change the country setting to be United States… whereupon the bird’s eye will work, but the Ordnance Survey view will disappear.
Of course, another aerial view option would be to turn to Google Maps – one tip for using the aerial view (activate via the Satellite icon in the lower left), is that if you see older images, you may well be looking at a map layer associated with the 3D view, where the service renders the view by “underlaying” building shapes with the images. Handy in a city, maybe, less so in the countryside.
In some cases, more recent images are available if you switch 3D off, by going to the hamburger menu in the top left; try disabling 3D to see what difference that makes to your aerial view.
“SHOCK, HORROR!”, the internet & news media said, “Microsoft is killing Paint!”. Cue the opportunity to make Clippy comparisons, and reflect on a bit of software that appeared in its first version in Windows 1.0, bring out the odd eccentric who manages to produce quite amazing art using Paint (like Pat Hines, who’s tried other paint software but “never managed to ‘connect’ with it”, or Jim’ll Paint It, who paints odd scenes on request, and whose fondness for MSPaint means he prefers the WinXP version).
Most of us probably don’t use MSPaint for much these days; maybe the odd bit of clumsy touching-up of images, or using it to snip bits out of screen grabs for documentation purposes.
Here’s one use case, if you’re in the UK and want to print out a map for a walk you’re going to do – fire up MSPAINT, set the canvas dimensions to something huge like 4096×4096 (in File / Properties), then go to Bing Maps and screen grab (WindowsKey+S, or use the Snipping Tool) the relevant sections of your planned walking route, looking at the Ordnance Survey view in the top right, and zooming in so you see the footpath details.
For longish walks, you’ll struggle to fit the whole route on one screen at the max detail level, so you’ll need to grab a bit, paste it onto the Paint canvas, move the map view, grab the next section, then using Paint, assemble the bits together like overlaying jigsaw pieces by moving your newest-pasted chunk around so it fits the rest. Copy the whole finished lot into a Word doc, and print.
Anyway, Paint is most definitely not dead – it’s just going to be an app that’s packaged and maybe delivered via the Windows Store, just like lots of other apps that are traditionally part of Windows and may or may not be installed by default (like Calc, Mail, Groove etc). There’s always Paint3D, too (ToW 358).
If you do need to do some more intensive image manipulation, especially of photos, there are many free options, from Adobe’s PhotoShop Express or the built-in Microsoft Photos app, which lets you carry out simple tweaks to photos you’ve acquired. For more creating and pixel-by-pixel tweaking of images, though, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value yet powerful tool than Paint.NET. It looks a bit 1990s in some respects, but it’s a simple and effective image editing tool, that has been likened to the bits of Photoshop that people like, simplified and delivered for free.
Find out more about Paint.NET here – download directly from here, and keep an eye out for a packaged version of Paint.NET hitting the Windows Store at some point, too. Who knows – maybe it will be there before MSPaint is loaded on the cart and taken away?
Can you remember the time when, if you wanted to know how to get somewhere, you needed to look on a paper map? Before mapping was at all available online, people would either buy paper maps or license software packages – sometimes at great expense – that had road information in a database, so they could plan journeys.
A company called NextBase released an early PC application called “Autoroute” that was bought by fleet transport managers and the likes, who might have saved time and fuel by more efficiently planning the routes that their vehicles would take. This made it worth the £500 or so that the software package cost†.
† this figure is made up, because I can’t for the life of me find any reference to the actual cost, but I do remember it was A LOT. Like, enough to drive a lot of pirate copies…
Now AutoRoute, Streets & Trips and their more professional data analysis counterpart, MapPoint, have all shuffled off to make way for the more popular – and mostly free – online mapping tools that people use today. Microsoft acquired MultiMap along the way, to bring additional expertise and technology to the Bing Maps platform.
So, most people will now use Bing Maps or Google Maps (Street View not available in all places) for finding directions. The latter is particularly good for finding places where you don’t need to know their address; put the name of a restaurant into Google Maps in a browser, or onto the Google Maps app on your phone, and you can get directions straight there without even bothering to look it up first.
Tip: if you search for the name of a place in Bing Maps, it shows you the result in a pop-out pane on the left, but sometimes leaves you trying to zoom & scroll, zoom & scroll to get the detail around your destination… to quickly go there, click once on the title banner (“Microsoft UK” in the example below) to collapse it, and once again to bring it back – at which point, the map view should zoom to the point.
Anyway, Bing Maps is improving its ability to find stuff around any given point – nearby restaurants, attractions, parking, that kind of thing – and this has now percolated through into a nicely updated Maps application for Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile.
To see what version of Windows Maps you’re running, click the elipsis in the top right, choose Settings and scroll to the bottom to see the version number – at time of writing, the updated version is Maps 5.1705.1391.0 but insiders will be on a later release.
If you search for a place, or even just right-click somewhere on a map to Drop a Pin, you’ll get the option to see what’s nearby and quickly find more details, plan a route to the destination etc.
As well as integrating place info better, the Maps app also has some nice traffic reporting capabilities – if Cortana knows your home and work locations, Maps will immediately think about your commute when you click on the traffic lights icon near the top right. As well as showing a colour coded traffic map, it shows public traffic cameras and lets you easily access them.
And if you plan a route using the driving directions, you can pin that route to your Start menu if it’s one you use a lot…
Read more about other updates to Windows Maps in the recent weeks.
The development of accurate maps was one of humankind’s biggest advances (after learning to talk) that enabled exploration and other developments. Mobile and online technology have advanced mapping (especially timely access to accurate maps) in ways that only a few years ago, most of us could never have imagined.
Automated maps in cars have been around for quite a while but it was only the widespread availability of GPS and the falling cost of electronics that made it feasible to think of sat nav as standard kit for lots of cars, though it doesn’t stop some gouging car makers from charging a healthy premium for installing a system that is years-old in design and will be completely obsolete by the time the user gets their next smartphone.
Most of us can remember the first time we saw Google Earth – spent a while looking up where we live, where we used to live, where we’ve been on holiday etc. Amazingly, though, Google didn’t know what they were going to do with the technology when they acquired it, but figured if they build it and people start using it, they’ll figure out how to monetise that later. And they did.
Microsoft has its own mapping technologies, of course – sometimes developed in partnership or licensed from 3rd parties, and there are a couple of places where they stand out from those available elsewhere: the Birds Eye view in Bing Maps shows some cracking imagery, for example.
If you’re set to use Bing Maps in the UK (go to the gear icon on the top right, click Settings, Region and choose United Kingdom) then you’ll also get access to the Ordnance Survey* maps which show topographical features, footpaths, bridleways, landmarks and all sorts – see above map of part of an old bit of West Berks as an example.
Windows 10 PC & Mobile
Windows 8.x had a Maps app that was interesting to a degree, but didn’t really offer much more than you’d get in a browser (apart from offline support). HERE Maps still publishes a decent app for PC users, though it’s still not a lot more than you’d get if you just went to a mapping site like Bing, or HERE.com itself. The new HERE site doesn’t even promote the Windows app, so make of that what you will.
There is a new Maps app for Windows 10 mobile & PC, that is quite a bit better, though. The app lets you download maps locally and will also function as a sat nav if you have a GPS in your device – so either a Windows 10 Mobile device (aka a phone) or some sort of tablet thing could be used in-car, with turn-by-turn directions, 3D views etc.
There are essentially 3 cool features about the maps app that set it apart from others, especially when used on a phone with Windows 10 Mobile:
* The Ordnance Survey is one of the oldest mapping organisations in the world, tracing its history back to the aftermath of some troublesome northerners planning to install an itinerant French waif as their king.
[Billy Connolly – ergo, seriously, NSFW – has a few words to say about BPC]