Tip o’ the Week 405 – Bye Bye, Bird’s Eye

clip_image001The Bird’s Eye view is/was one of the nicest bits in Bing Maps (get there quickly, at www.bingmaps.com – did you know you can type simply bingmaps in the address bar of Edge or Chrome, and press CTRL-ENTER to add the www and .com bits?).

clip_image003The Eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that some changes have happened… clicking on the drop-down control to change the map type no longer shows Birds Eye – instead, if you right-click on a point on the map, you clip_image005may get the option of viewing in bird’s eye view, and maybe streetside (though don’t expect the same level of coverage of Google Street View, at least if you’re outside the US).

If the bird’s eye option is greyed out, that means the view is not available – or no longer available, as out of date maps have been temporarily removed from the platform. Or at least removed from being easily found – if the missing area is on a boundary between data sets that are being updated, it may be possible to find a nearby place, and scroll across to find the view you’d originally searched for.

clip_image007Shortly after going live, UK users found a temporary problem – clicking on the bird’s eye view (when it’s not greyed out) didn’t do anything if your locale was “United Kingdom”.

If selecting the view doesn’t work for you, try clicking on the “hamburger” menu in the top right, and change the country setting to be United States… whereupon the bird’s eye will work, but the Ordnance Survey view will disappear.

So for a while, it looks like Brits needed to say Bye Bye, to the Bird’s Eye (for your morning coffee, see what that last link will mean for Western civilisation). Boom Boom.

clip_image009Of course, another aerial view option would be to turn to Google Maps – one tip for using the aerial view (activate via the Satellite icon in the lower left), is that if you see older images, you may well be looking at a map layer associated with the 3D view, where the service renders the view by clip_image011“underlaying” building shapes with the images. Handy in a city, maybe, less so in the countryside.

In some cases, more recent images are available if you switch 3D off, by going to the hamburger menu in the top left; try disabling 3D to see what difference that makes to your aerial view.

Tip o’ the Week 390 – Paint it black

SHOCK, HORROR!”, the internet & news media said, “Microsoft is killing Paint!”. Cue the opportunityclip_image002 to make Clippy comparisons, and reflect on a bit of software that appeared in its first version in Windows 1.0, bring out the odd eccentric who manages to produce quite amazing art using Paint (like Pat Hines, who’s tried other paint software but “never managed to ‘connect’ with it”, or Jim’ll Paint It, who paints odd scenes on request, and whose fondness for MSPaint means he prefers the WinXP version).

Most of us probably don’t use MSPaint for much these days; maybe the odd bit of clumsy touching-up of images, or using it to snip bits out of screen grabs for documentation purposes.

Here’s one use case, if you’re in the UK and want to print out a map for a walk you’re going to do – fire up MSPAINT, set the clip_image004canvas dimensions to something huge like 4096×4096 (in File / Properties), then go to Bing Maps and screen grab (WindowsKey+S, or use the Snipping Tool) the relevant sections of your planned walking route, looking at the Ordnance Survey view in the top right, and zooming in so you see the footpath details.

For longish walks, you’ll struggle to fit the whole route on one screen at the max detail level, so you’ll need to grab a bit, paste it onto the Paint canvas, move the map view, grab the next section, then using Paint, assemble the bits together like overlaying jigsaw pieces by moving your newest-pasted chunk around so it fits the rest. Copy the whole finished lot into a Word doc, and print.

Anyway, Paint is most definitely not dead – it’s just going to be an app that’s packaged and maybe delivered via the Windows Store, just like lots of other apps that are traditionally part of Windows and may or may not be installed by default (like Calc, Mail, Groove etc). There’s always Paint3D, too (ToW 358).

If you do need to do some more intensive image manipulation, especially of photos, there are many free options, from Adobe’s PhotoShop Express or the built-in Microsoft Photos app, which lets you carry out simple tweaks to photos you’ve acquired. For more creating and pixel-by-pixel tweaking of images, though, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value yet powerful tool than Paint.NET. It looks a bit 1990s in some respects, but it’s a simple and effective image editing tool, that has been likened to the bits of Photoshop that people like, simplified and delivered for free.

Find out more about Paint.NET here – download directly from here, and keep an eye out for a packaged version of Paint.NET hitting the Windows Store at some point, too. Who knows – maybe it will be there before MSPaint is loaded on the cart and taken away?

Tip o’ the Week 383 – Windows Maps refresh

clip_image001Can you remember the time when, if you wanted to know how to get somewhere, you needed to look on a paper map? Before mapping was at all available online, people would either buy paper maps or license software packages – sometimes at great expense – that had road information in a database, so they could plan journeys.

A company called NextBase released an early PC application called “Autoroute” that was bought by fleet transport managers and the likes, who might have saved time and fuel by more efficiently clip_image002planning the routes that their vehicles would take. This made it worth the £500 or so that the software package cost†.

Microsoft went on to acquire NextBase and released AutoRoute in some markets, and Streets & Trips in others, and went on to sell it for the more modest £99‡.

this figure is made up, because I can’t for the life of me find any reference to the actual cost, but I do remember it was A LOT. Like, enough to drive a lot of pirate copies…
so is this figure

Now AutoRoute, Streets & Trips and their more professional data analysis counterpart, MapPoint, have all shuffled off to make way for the more popular – and mostly free – online mapping tools that people use today. Microsoft acquired MultiMap along the way, to bring additional expertise and technology to the Bing Maps platform.

So, most people will now use Bing Maps or Google Maps (Street View not available in all places) for finding directions. The latter is particularly good for finding places where you don’t need to know their address; put the name of a restaurant into Google Maps in a browser, or onto the Google Maps app on your phone, and you can get directions straight there without even bothering to look it up first.

Tip: if you search for the name of a place in Bing Maps, it shows you the result in a pop-out pane on the left, but sometimes leaves you trying to zoom & scroll, zoom & scroll to get the detail around your destination… to quickly go there, click once on the title banner (“Microsoft UK” in the example below) to collapse it, and once again to bring it back – at which point, the map view should zoom to the point.

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Anyway, Bing Maps is improving its ability to find stuff around any given point – nearby restaurants, attractions, parking, that kind of thing – and this has now percolated through into a nicely updated Maps application for Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile.

To see what version of Windows Maps you’re running, click the elipsis in the top right, choose Settings and scroll to the bottom to see the version number – at time of writing, the updated version is Maps 5.1705.1391.0 but insiders will be on a later release.

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If you search for a place, or even just right-click somewhere on a map to Drop a Pin, you’ll get the option to see what’s nearby and quickly find more details, plan a route to the destination etc.

As well as integrating place info better, the Maps app also has some nice traffic reporting capabilities – if Cortana knows your home and work locations, Maps will immediately think about your commute when you click on the traffic lights icon near the top right. As well as showing a colour coded clip_image005traffic map, it shows public traffic cameras and lets you easily access them.

And if you plan a route using the driving directions, you can pin that route to your Start menu if it’s one you use a lot…

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Read more about other updates to Windows Maps in the recent weeks.

Tip o’ the Week 318 – Read Maps on Windows 10

clip_image001The development of accurate maps was one of humankind’s biggest advances (after learning to talk) that enabled exploration and other developments. Mobile and online technology have advanced mapping (especially timely access to accurate maps) in ways that only a few years ago, most of us could never have imagined.

Automated maps in cars have been around for quite a while but it was only the widespread availability of GPS and the falling cost of electronics that made it feasible to think of sat nav as standard kit for lots of cars, though it doesn’t stop some gouging car makers from charging a healthy premium for installing a system that is years-old in design and will be completely obsolete by the time the user gets their next smartphone.

Most of us can remember the first time we saw Google Earth – spent a while looking up where we live, where we used to live, where we’ve been on holiday etc. Amazingly, though, Google didn’t know what they were going to do with the technology when they acquired it, but figured if they build it and people start using it, they’ll figure out how to monetise that later. And they did.

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Bing Maps

Microsoft has its own mapping technologies, of course – sometimes developed in partnership or licensed from 3rd parties, and there are a couple of places where they stand out from those available elsewhere: the Birds Eye view in Bing Maps shows some cracking imagery, for example.

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If you’re set to use Bing Maps in the UK (go to the gear icon on the top right, click Settings, Region and choose United Kingdom) then you’ll also get access to the Ordnance Survey* maps which show topographical features, footpaths, bridleways, landmarks and all sorts – see above map of part of an old bit of West Berks as an example.

Windows 10 PC & Mobile

clip_image004Windows 8.x had a Maps app that was interesting to a degree, but didn’t really offer much more than you’d get in a browser (apart from offline support). HERE Maps still publishes a decent app for PC users, though it’s still not a lot more than you’d get if you just went to a mapping site like Bing, or HERE.com itself. The new HERE site doesn’t even promote the Windows app, so make of that what you will.

clip_image005clip_image007There is a new Maps app for Windows 10 mobile & PC, that is quite a bit better, though. The app lets you download maps locally and will also function as a sat nav if you have a GPS in your device – so either a Windows 10 Mobile device (aka a phone) or some sort of tablet thing could be used in-car, with turn-by-turn directions, 3D views etc.  

There are essentially 3 cool features about the maps app that set it apart from others, especially when used on a phone with Windows 10 Mobile:

  • Traffic and Cameras – by turning on the traffic or cameras options, you’ll see what the state of the roads are, and if you tap on the camera icons shown, you’ll see a recent – but sadly not date or time-stamped – image of the scene
  • clip_image008StreetSide view – if you’re in the area covered by the subset of the world where a scene has been recorded by the StreetSide camera wagon, then you’ll see imagery on your device
  • Car favourites – don’t recreate Dude, Where’s My Car? – you can add a Favourite (press the hamburger icon on the top left, choose Favourites, and you’ll see a clip_image009list of favourite places, including Home, Work and, now, Car). You set the current location of  your car and optionally add a photo from the camera, so if you want to record the zone/row location sign in the airport, or the situ and registration number of the potential door-swinger parked next to you so you might have some proof when they ding your car…

* The Ordnance Survey is one of the oldest mapping organisations in the world, tracing its history back to the aftermath of some troublesome northerners planning to install an itinerant French waif as their king.

[Billy Connolly – ergo, seriously, NSFWhas a few words to say about BPC]