The technology preview from Microsoft went live a bit early (and as press person I got a heads up - thanks!). “Street-Side” has definite potential but suffered from some delays as I roamed the streets of Seattle.
The screen is split in half. The top is what you see and the bottom is where you drive. The display on the top shows three views - front, left and right. Depending on if you are walking, in a sports car, or a race car different “masks” display these images. The two cars have different “windows” and gadgets (like GPS navigation systems!), too.
On the bottom half you are presented with street, road and hybrid maps on views on which to drive. Steets offers a street map, road offers thumbnails of the images you’ll see above laid out along the streets and hybrid offers streets over imagery. You can drive by moving the mouse or using the keyboard arrow keys. I like the latter better as I’m not great with video games. You can spin the car around and make it go sideways, too. Kids will enjoy that! Frankly, I got a bit dizzy (as I’m prone to do in video games, IMAX theaters and the like) while exploring.
I do not believe the choice of “vehicle” impacts how fast you can go, but rather, the look of the screen (the masks noted above and the icon for your vehicle). In walk mode “you” are represented as a “radioactive hockey puck.” Each mode (walk or car) has a viewshed shown on the lower portion outlining what area can be seen above.
The one limitation seems to be the speed at which the imagery for the top can keep up with your driving speed on the bottom. Many times I experienced a significant delay. (I’m on DSL.) I enjoyed looking at the parking garage signs out my window and seeing the tops of those same buildings from above on the driving pane. I could see Starbucks signs and can image “pre driving a route” in this sort of tool before heading to somewhere scary (like the city, where I try to avoid driving). Knowing to turn at the Starbucks or where the entrance to the parking garage is would certainly reduce stress.
Now, how well this offering scales to more cities (just bits of Seattle and San Fran are in the preview) and more users (I suspect usage was low when I visited) will be key in its success. How Microsoft plans to monetize it will also play a role. As a preview, there’s no way to “mashup” Street-side but in the future, perhaps that will be posssible.