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Microsoft offers browser-viewable 3D maps

Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D renderings of famous landmarks can be seen from the Web browser, including Firefox.

On Tuesday, Microsoft began releasing photographic 3D renderings of landmarks in New York and a few other cities via its Live Search Maps site.

In November, the company released Virtual Earth 3D in beta, along with the API and a software developer kit for people who wanted to create 3D renderings for Live Search Maps. At the time, people could also view 3D terrain and some three-dimensional buildings in a few cities. The release of New York in virtual 3D marks the first major effort by Microsoft to create an almost complete rendering of a recognizable city.

Microsoft's attempt at 3D views of famous landmarks is a little more manageable and realistic-looking than the one offered by Google Earth.

Images: Microsoft maps in 3D

For one, the 3D view will work through your Web browser, and that includes Firefox as well as Internet Explorer. You will have to download a Microsoft Virtual Earth add-on and restart for Firefox, but after that, you're good to go. Anytime you go to Live Search Maps you will be able to switch to a 3D view.

Another contrast to Google's rich-media versions of famous places is that Microsoft's 3D objects are photo-based.

In addition to the new 3D views, Microsoft has also launched real-time maps of traffic and construction. The maps show construction areas as hazard signs that offer detailed explanations for the holdup when you click on them, in addition to a color-coded system for identifying minor to major traffic congestion.

As with the Google Earth project, only certain cities and landmarks are currently available in 3D, though Microsoft says it plans to add more.