Microsoft just announced that it is taking the Bing Maps Sliverlight version out of beta and making it the default version for Bing Maps. The Bing Team is rolling this change out slowly. Within a few weeks, all users in the U.S. will see the Silverlight maps by default. The AJAX site will continue to work for the time being and users will be able to switch back and forth between the two version. The Silverlight version is a major step forward for Bing Maps and, in many respects, puts it ahead of Google Maps in terms of features and usability.

In addition to this change, Microsoft also announced two new products for Bing Maps: Destination Maps and an events app.

Silverlight allows the Bing Maps team to make the user experience far more fluid than Google currently can with its AJAX-driven mapping service. The Silverlight version of Bing Maps is also the only way to access Microsoft's Streetside images, the company's version of Google's Street View. Because it runs on Silverlight, Streetside offers a very fluid way of moving around the streets of the cities in the U.S. and Canada that the service currently supports. The Silverlight version of Bing Maps also allows users to seamlessly switch between maps, satellite images and highly detailed aerial photos. In addition, the Bing Maps Silverlight version also makes it easy to browse through user-generated PhotoSynth images.

Finding Treasure - Destination Maps

Destination Maps are an interesting addition to the Bing Maps Apps. With this application, you can quickly create a map of driving directions to a specific place to give to your friends. The interesting feature here is that you can choose different map types, all of which display simplified and easy-to-read maps: American, European, Sketchy and Treasure, which looks like a pirate map.

Events

Bing's new Local Events application displays the locations of local events on the map. The application allows you to filter events by type (concert, theater, museum. etc.) and date. Currently, the selection of events in the application's index seems a bit limited.

Bing Maps vs. Google Maps

Google, however, still offers a couple of features that Bing Maps doesn't offer. With Place Pages, for example, Google offers a better local search experience. Google also offers slightly better maps, especially if you are planning to walk or to take public transport.

If anything, though, the current competition between Google and Microsoft is driving the development of online maps forward. Chances are that some users won't be happy about the fact that the new version of Bing Maps works with Silverlight, but the plugin is easy to install and the results are worth the hassle of installing.