Microsoft Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS locator is a bargain alternative compared to expensive auto-navigation systems that cost hundreds of dollars more. Combining the latest version of Microsoft's popular mapping software with a two-inch square GPS receiver, Streets & Trips 2005 pinpoints your vehicle's exact location on street and highway maps, and it even tracks speed, direction, altitude, and other coordinates. Unfortunately, it's clunky to use. The GPS receiver has trouble getting a satellite signal unless placed near a car window, the software lacks voice commands to guide you, and cruising while reading a laptop screen is so dangerous it should be illegal. That said, the software is handy for planning long-distance trips or when driving with a passenger. Our recommendation: Buy Streets & Trips without GPS. You'll save money, and your insurance agent will thank you. The setup for Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS locator is a two-step process. First, you load the Streets & Trips CD, which by default installs 1GB of data, including program files and maps, on your hard drive. You'll save 450MB of disk space by running Streets & Trips from the CD, but that'll make the software as slow as a Yugo up a 9 percent grade. We installed the software, including the GPS driver, in about 10 minutes without incident.
Second, after the software is installed, you connect the GPS receiver to your PC. It's effortless: just plug one end of the supplied USB cable to the PC and the other to the biscuit-size GPS device. The Streets & Trips software immediately recognizes the receiver, but you'll need to click the Track position box in the GPS Task Pane to view your location on a street map.
Attached to the GPS's USB cable is a simple suction cup, which should be used to attach the GPS receiver to a location with a clear view of the sky, such as your car's dashboard or rear package shelf. Unfortunately, the suction cup we tested couldn't support the GPS device. We wound up hanging the receiver outside our car window instead.
The Streets & Trips 2005 interface retains much of last year's appearance, except for the new and nifty GPS Task Pane that displays your speed, heading, altitude, and even (for lost off-roaders) latitude and longitude. The display, which changes in real time as you cruise down the road, is fun to watch but, therefore, distracting and dangerous, particularly if your laptop is perched solo on the passenger seat.