Microsoft-Google Battle Goes Galactic

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft is launching an online service giving users access to images from space telescopes. It could mean yet another battle with Google, which has its own service, Google Sky.

Bill Gates says the WorldWide Telescope project should be online by the end of the month. The free service is based on Microsoft's Visual Experience Engine, the same technology which runs the Microsoft Virtual Earth mapping software.

By combining this software with thousands of images taken from space cameras, the service effectively acts as an interactive telescope. Where appropriate there will also be links to audio and visual presentations about particular parts of space. More than 300 solar systems are covered by the project.

The firm is dedicating the service to Jim Gray, who went missing at sea last year. His SkyServer project laid much of the groundwork for the new service. (Source:

Dr. Roy Gould of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics spoke alongside Bill Gates at the project's launch at a technology conference in Monterey, California. He said "This new resource will change the way we do astronomy ... the way we teach astronomy ... and, most importantly, I think it's going to change the way we see ourselves in the universe." (Source:

Intriguingly, Microsoft says the technology behind the project could be adapted to other tasks, such as mapping genomes (the organised set of DNA which makes up each living object). However, they don't have any plans for such projects yet.

The project is an obvious rival for Google Sky, which is an added tool for the Google Earth software. That came out as a standalone program last August and then launched on the web in March. The Google system takes images and data from a variety of sources to try to accurately replicate what's currently happening in space.

It's hardly the first time the two firms have been rivals. After years doing battle in the search engine market, they made up two-thirds of a takeover rumor triangle with Yahoo. And Google's launch of free online software such as a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tool was clearly an attempt to take customers away from Microsoft Office tools.

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