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Microsoft's Eye in the Sky

Windows Live Local (currently in a beta version) impresses on several counts. As with Google Local, a single mouse click lets you switch between a conventional map and a stunning satellite photo with your route superimposed. However, Live Local adds a third option that no other site offers: bird's-eye views. These crisp, low-altitude images taken by plane are available mostly for metropolitan areas. Type in PC World's San Francisco address, for example, and you can see the cars driving by our building when the photograph was taken.

Other Live Local innovations include a cookie-based scratch pad for retaining locations so you can easily get to them on return visits to the site, and a click-and-drag approach to defining a map area for enlargement. You can also add pushpins to a map by right-clicking on a location, after which you can add a note or get driving directions to (or from) a pin.

The site still needs some work on accuracy, however (not surprising in a beta product). Its mapping software placed a Starbucks at the address of a private home on a residential street. In my test for directions, it chose the faster route--by freeway--to get from point A to point B, but then it routed me through congested city streets on the reverse course.

Bottom line: The data needs refreshing, but Windows Live Local's innovative features set a new standard in online mapping.

At a Glance
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