If you like to see, and I mean REALLY see a place before you visit, major sites and search engines want your attention. They are all rolling out aerial maps in different forms.
Google recently released their Google Earth free mapping service which offers three dimensional maps with satellite photos and maps. You need to download software, unfortunately, to access the full service. For the “full” free version, you will need a new style computer with 200 MB to 2 GIG of hard drive space to install, depending upon your configuration and needs. Their other online map service is also still available.
Microsoft just introduced a service called MSN Virtual Earth that combines street maps with aerial photographs from airplanes and satellites. If you need a visual map to get you around town, they intend to be your destination first. MSN also allows wireless Internet users to have their location “plotted for them on a map based on their proximity to wireless access points or based on their Internet IP address”. That is very exciting as it ties together the wireless computer user with location.
Amazon.com’s A9 Search Engine offers street- level photographs of businesses.
There are other paid and free sites for maps and satellite photos, but sit back and watch the photo map war between the big guys. No matter what happens, I think all us travelers are going to benefit from this.