Windows Live Local Mini Review

Windows Live Local is now live. Virtual Earth was a bit of a dud when it was released, but Microsoft has had a chance to go back and spend some time working on it.  How much better is it now?

Um… better?

I’m in Ottawa, and there’s still no satellite coverage of Canada.  The vector maps for Ottawa are years out of date.  So reviewing it from my own perspective doesn’t work.

So lets look at Los Angeles, where everything works. 

First off I have to say that having the Zoom In and Zoom Out buttons try to animate by first doing an animated zoom of the previous resolution’s bitmap is a bad idea, and I’m surprised it’s still in there.  Even if the map before and after the zoom looks okay, you’re going to get a brief transition of a blocky map with the bitmapped text zooming at your face before the whole thing goes grey and redraws.  I’d much rather have a simple transition.

This link looks sharp, but this link, which is the same part of the world but actually zoomed out a little, looks blurry.  You’d think the map would get blurrier as you zoomed in, but it seems they use different source images for different zoom levels, and that leads to this effect.  It’s misleading because when you see a blurry map view, you’re not likely to want to zoom in on the blur..

The site doesn’t work very well in Firefox.  There’s no excuse for this.  For example, clicking and dragging to scroll around the map sometimes just gives me a busy cursor, or attaches the mouse to the cursor and keeps dragging even when I let go.

The birdseye views are nice to look at, but you lose the ability to scroll around the map.  It just becomes a slideshow.  That’s disappointing.  It’s not a smooth transition either – the whole window goes black while the new location gets paged in.

The lack of polish is what really makes it stand out from Google’s offerings.  It feels like the folks making the Windows Live Local application don’t actually use it.