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Map control confusion

When it comes to including geographical information in your web-application you have to make two main decisions. The first one is which API you are going to use, the second one is who is going to provide the geographical data. These two are not always completely independent.

A lot of websites use google maps. The geographical information is supplied by google and the only way to get to that information is by using the Google Javascript API. When it comes to performance Javascript is far from ideal, more sophisticated applications which try to add a lot of information to a map are quite likely to hit a script timeout. The other downside of this approach is the (lack of) smoothness of the display. Panning or zooming a map results in a lot of  image blur.


Both downsides can be overcome by using Silverlight. The DeepEarth project was the first to use deepzoom which results in a smooth display when scanning or zooming. The strong typed compiled C# Silverlight code working with the map has not only a speed advantage over Javascript, it’s running async resulting in an app which not only has a smooth look but also a smooth feel.

You can build amazing apps with that. This is a part of the MVP map created by DeepEarth evangelist SoulSolutions


When it comes to where and how to get the geographical data, which can be satellite images, road maps or routing information, confusion starts. The DeepEarth project offered a choice of map providers. Ranging from OpenStreetmap to Yahoo maps and Microsoft Live Earth. Google maps were not included, the reason is the one I mentioned. Nobody so far has managed to create a hack to get Google Map data without leaving JS.

But the most confusing data-provider was and is Microsoft. The first versions of DeepEarth offered plain Live maps. In later versions you were supposed to use LiveMaps webservices. The usage of these services was by far free. There was a free developer test account available which resulted in map images all decorated with the word “staging”. For production you had to buy a license. To get a proper deal for that always got stuck somewhere in the pipeline. At the same time the old versions using plain Live maps kept working. At the moment I’m writing this seems to be history already.

LiveMaps have become Bing maps. At the same time Microsoft started developing their own Silverlight map control. The good thing is that it is a marvel to work with. The performance is even better than DeepEarth. The API just shines, a lot of functionality is present straight out of the box. All the extra work I had to do to get my app running in Deep Earth could be replaced by just hooking into some events. The architecture is great as well. It is by no means just limited to using Bing Maps data, you can even bypass that completely using the control as a blank working surface with a Latitude-Longitude coordinate system. A part of the architecture is a clear and easy way to use any map provider you can imagine, or build yourself. There are a lot of good stories on the web on working with the control.

But, as announced, there is still confusion. First there is the name. It is Microsoft Virtual Earth Silverlight Map Control. I have no problem with that, do you like Bing ? I can’t get used to that. More serious is the source of map data. The control, now in CTP, displays full MS map data without any need to apply for a (test-) license. No staging, no problem. The control itself has a Token property, according to the documentation:

Gets or sets the token to use for service requests.

It contains an empty string. How and when to use it is not clear at all. When it comes to production will it be needed to use the control? Or will it only be needed to get actual MS map data? Which data ? Just routing information ? Maps? Satellite images ? I just cannot find out. In case anybody can shed some light on this, I would appreciate that very much. Building software using the control is great, but what are price and conditions my customer will have to deal with?

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