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Software

Microsoft's Virtual Earth: 3D heaven

Stunning satellite imagery and a bird's eye view of the UK has us begging for more. Use this online tool to spot the deck chair in your back garden...

Microsoft's UK release of Virtual Earth has blown us away with its high-quality imagery and ease of use. We love the improved satellite image quality -- we can see the trees in our back garden, while with Google Earth we sometimes had to guess which of the blurry houses was our palatial residence.

The 3D imagery, or the 'birds eye view' as Microsoft calls it, is stunning -- it blows Google Earth's tilt functionality out of the water. Microsoft claims it will have birds eye views of 235 square miles around London in the coming weeks, but we were surprised that many of the tourist hot spots, such as Tower Bridge, Oxford Circus and Buckingham Palace were missing at the moment. We were hoping for 3D views of the Queen sunbathing in the grounds of Buckingham palace, but no such luck.

It also seems crazy that they haven't mentioned getting 3D views of other major cities in the UK -- surely it would have made more sense to get 50 square miles of the five biggest cities in the UK, rather than getting 3D views of unexciting London suburbs like Croydon (as pictured above). Brummies, take to the streets in protest!

We also found Virtual Earth easier to use than Google Earth -- it's a doddle to annotate the map and we like the fact that the business search is turned off by default, so our image isn't cluttered up with information we don't want. But, on the other hand, we love the way Google Earth zooms in as if we were flying around the globe on a spaceship. And Google Earth is undoubtedly better for researching destinations beyond Earth's atmosphere and for finding crazy stuff like Iranian nuclear facilities and crop circles (both available from the Google Earth Hacks site).

Overall, we don't think we'll be giving up on Google Earth just yet, but Virtual Earth has definitely been promoted to our preferred tool for doing UK searches. If you haven't tried it yet, you must take this baby out for a joyride straightaway. -IM

Update: Both Virtual Earth and Google Earth have been updated -- check out our comparison.