Microsoft has announced the release of "Streetside," which allows you to navigate maps of 56 cities at street level on Bing Maps.
Sound familiar? That's because it's a nearly note-for-note copy of Street View from Google Maps.
Microsoft has even released it as a "beta" version, just like Google.
The one unique feature is integration with Photosynth, which can take regular two-dimensional photographs and stitch them together into a 3D experience -- you can see it at work on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Microsoft has a long and checkered history of "competing" with software companies by releasing their own versions of a product and crushing the original innovator through market dominance.
WordPerfect? Word. Lotus 123? Excel. Quicken? Microsoft Money. Netscape? Internet Explorer.
This might be why Google didn't debut Street View in the greater Seattle area until long after it had expanded to much smaller cities -- they probably knew that Microsoft would happily reverse-engineer the distinctive car used to generate the photographs and launch their own, competing version.
One problem that Microsoft might encounter in getting users familiar with Google Maps to jump ship to Bing, or win new users entirely, will be the fact that you have to install the company's Silverlight multimedia software, which does not have nearly the market share that Adobe's Flash, which powers Google Maps, enjoys.
But it did give them an excuse for a press release blast and a promotional event at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Too bad the message is, "Look, our map tool is now nearly as useful as Google's!"
Jackson West gives this a shrug and a "meh."