NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Show Me the Way to Go Home
This mapping program Really works

by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group, February 2001
(click to email author)

I was talking to the tree trimmer about-what else?-computers. You know how it works. The second you mention your line of work, they're asking if it's okay to pick your brain. Only this guy wasn't waiting for permission.

"You think AMI's new Double Duty Dual BIOS with VirusGuard is any good?" he said, shouting over the chainsaw.

Oh, hell, lemme get back to work, I thought, hoping he wouldn't start asking about BIOS error beeps.

"I dunno much about..." I started, but he was turning off the chainsaw, digging in for a one-way tête-à-tête.

"Well," he went on, "whaddya think of those mapping programs, the kind you type in an address and they tell you where to go?"

Of course, I was thinking the same thing, but telling him where to go wouldn't stop him. "Not worth a hoot," I said, backing towards the door, making a getaway. "Because you can do it for free on the Internet with MapBlast. It's just as good and, more important, it's up to date."

But boy, was I wrong.
Coincidently, Microsoft had sent me a copy of their $50 Expedia Streets and Trips 2001 a couple of days earlier. I stuck it under the desk, holding it for the monthly giveaway. But after that conversation, I decided to try it, figuring it wouldn't take more than an hour or so to install and play with it. Besides, the only deadline I had was hours away, and I needed something to help build the stress.

Streets and Trips is in an oversized box with, as you've guessed, a case with two CDs. (Don't worry about the waste, Bill, what's important is getting shelf space.) One CD's the installer, the other holds the data. You can choose to insert the data disk when you're ready to use the program, and that's a good choice.

But the tree trimmer said that when he got back to the office, he'd have 15 or more calls to return, some asking for quotes, others wanting work done. He didn't want to spend time asking directions of customers. So he'd likely put everything on the drive-a hefty 750MBs. That way addresses just popped on screen, he could verify, say, the cross streets, and move on to another call. Later he'd quickly crank out maps and directions so they'd be ready for his crew in the morning.

Take me Anywhere
The program claims to have every street-level map for the United States and Canada, (go ahead, try to test it!), as well as addresses and directions, although they coyly don't say how many they supply. Nonetheless, I took a stab at places I know-my relatives' addresses, parents, friends, and landmarks, such as N.Y.'s Aquarium, Eliot Middle School, PIBMUG's meeting location, and Pasadena's La Fornaretta restaurant. Streets and Trips found them all. One question remains unanswered: Did the restaurants pay a fee to be included?

Once I found a spot, a right mouse click brought up Find Nearby Places, including restaurants, museums, hotels, movie theaters, and user groups. Everything I do, by the way, can be permanently saved to disk, printed in a dozen ways, or with a click, sent as e-mail. If you have a Windows CE handheld device (yeah, I didn't think so), Streets will download maps and directions to it.

Routing options include fastest, shortest, or preferred road. And I could figure in the amount of gas I'd need for the trip as well as the cost of the fuel. No surprises here. But what I liked lots was the program's real- time, drag and drop routing skills. I could plop a start and end point onto the map and see both the route and driving instructions immediately. If I want to make a quick sidetrip, a right mouse click adds a stop. Again, the route changes while I watch.

Danger Will Robinson, Danger!
A quick aside: When Microsoft demoed Windows 95, the presenter showed us an encyclopedia program reaching out to the Internet to get current information. Pretty silly idea six years ago. I mean, they asked us to believe that anyone would sit around and wait for their phone to dial and make a connection. At 33.6-kbps, no less. (Ha ha, I thought shortsightedly.)

While broadband has made headway, the vast majority of people are still using 56-kbps dialup accounts, making Streets and Trips an attractive program. That's because Streets is on your local drive and tremendously faster than anything available on the Internet, even with a broadband connection.

The program also makes good use of the Internet, no matter what your connection speed. For instance, while I was routing a trip to Long Beach, California from here in Altadena, Streets asked if I wanted to check for construction problems or detours. A very cool feature. Read about Streets and Trips: http://www.microsoft.com/streets

Listen, I've got to go. The gardener is tapping on the Window asking me about the USB port on his leaf blower.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World Magazine, frequently writes for Forbes ASAP, and is the president of the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He often writes with his tongue in his cheek. Write to him at stevebass@earthlink.net

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