WebGL for IE11 will enable Bing Maps 3D

By Kip Kniskern | In Bing, Featured | Posted June 30, 2013 24 comments

webgl-logoAmong the number of announcements Microsoft made at last week’s Build, two stand out not only for their significance, but for their relationship.  For the first time, Microsoft is including the open-source graphics rendering javascript API known as WebGL, and at the same time, re-introducing Bing Maps 3D.  How are they connected?  Let’s take a look.

First, some background.  Microsoft has never included WebGL with Internet Explorer, even though it is an important part of other major browsers.  In fact, Microsoft took the time, back in June of 2011, to explain just why they considered WebGL “harmful” (short answer, security vulnerabilities).  Microsoft had just “killed” Silverlight a few months earlier at PDC 2010, and web developers weren’t left with many choices for their graphics intensive applications: an immature HTML5, Flash, or ignoring IE and going with WebGL.

Microsoft didn’t spend a lot of time in the Build keynote or in the IE 11 blog post talking about WebGL, only including a single paragraph in the blog post:

Hardware-accelerated 3D Web graphics. Interoperable WebGL experiences run on all devices, taking advantage of GPU acceleration. IE11 scans for unsafe WebGL content and implements a software-based renderer to complement the GPU. With Windows, graphics subsystem failures are not fatal, and WebGL continues to run. With IE11, your 3D experiences can access device orientation to create new interaction opportunities for immersive Web content.

However, in a session run by Frank Olivier, Build attendees did get a deeper dive into IE’s implementation of WebGL (including a quick sneak peek at PhotoSynth 2, which occurs right at the beginning of the session and is well worth a look):

photosynth-2

As Olivier says in the session, WebGL offers developers the chance to do “stuff you can’t really do anywhere else on the web platform”.

On to Bing.  At the Build Day 1 keynote, Bing VP Gurdeep Singh Pall showed off (alongside a number of other cool new features coming to the Bing Developer Platform), an upcoming set of controls for Bing Maps 3D:

bing-maps-3d

Now just as a refresher, 3D maps aren’t anything new to Bing, they existed for years as at first a standalone download known as “Virtual Earth 3D“, and then later as a Silverlight plugin to the classic Bing Maps, known as “Bing Maps 3D”.  That was shut down in November of 2010, as Microsoft made a hasty retreat from Silverlight.

Intrigued by this offhand mention of a new incarnation of Bing Maps 3D, I asked around a bit.  First, Bing Director Stefan Weitz told me that the new version was almost entirely built from the ground up, using, among other technologies,  Microsoft’s UltraCam.  There’s simply not much left from the old Bing Maps 3D, Silverlight or otherwise.  Then I had a chance to talk a bit about WebGL with Jason Weber, a PM on the IE team, who has been at a number of Microsoft events presenting on Internet Explorer.  He explained that Microsoft is using a custom implementation of WebGL, which sits on top of (well sort of) DirectX.  In fact, WebGL and DirectX share a lot of functionality (although DirectX, of course, is not open source, and not used by any other browsers besides IE):

webgl-architecture

But it was after attending a Bing Developer session at Build, and talking to  Bing Maps Senior PM Johannes Kebeck that it all started coming together.  He told me that the new Bing Maps 3D would be coming not only to web developers in the form of Bing Developer controls for use in their apps, but also coming back to the web as part of Bing Maps.  However, Bing Maps 3D is based on, you guessed it, WebGL.

For the Bing Maps team to do stuff they couldn’t do anywhere else (including Bing Maps 3D and PhotoSynth 2), they needed WebGL.  It’s been nearly two years without a 3D mapping product from Microsoft, but now, finally with IE’s rebuilding of WebGL, we’ll be seeing some cool stuff not only from app developers, but from Bing Maps, as well.

Posted June 30th, 2013 at 11:17 pm
Category: Bing, Featured
Tags: 3D Maps, Bing Maps, IE11, WebGL
  • JJ

    I am glad MS made this move. A platform can be 100% secure by doing nothing, but, that wouldn’t be useful. It is great to see MS making a modern IE that is capable of displaying modern content. WebGL brings new security challenges, and I am glad MS is willing to face the challenges.

    • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

      Frank Olivier does talk about some of the security enhancements made both by improvements to the WebGL spec, and in Microsoft’s implementation of WebGL. Security with WebGL is a lot better than it was back in 2011 :)

  • JJ

    I am glad MS made this move. A platform can be 100% secure by doing nothing, but, that wouldn’t be useful. It is great to see MS making a modern IE that is capable of displaying modern content. WebGL brings new security challenges, and I am glad MS is willing to face the challenges.

    • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

      Frank Olivier does talk about some of the security enhancements made both by improvements to the WebGL spec, and in Microsoft’s implementation of WebGL. Security with WebGL is a lot better than it was back in 2011 :)

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    This is awesome news. Microsoft will use an open web API for Bing Maps 3D, while Google still requires the user to download clunky proprietary software.

    “although DirectX, of course, is not open source, and not used by any other browsers besides IE”

    Why such negative spin on the industry’s top graphics APIs? DirectX is used by every mainstream video game — Call of Duty, etc.

    • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

      No negativity implied, just pointing out that it’s a proprietary Microsoft technology.

      • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

        I’m just playing. I’m just overreacting to the word “although” really.

    • http://bit.ly/nathanaelphotosynth Nate Lawrence

      Actually, Tim, Google moved to WebGL for Google Maps back in October 2011.

      Here’s their blog post:
      http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2011/10/step-inside-map-with-google-mapsgl.html

      Here’s a little behind the scenes talk from Steve Seitz, who was one of the people pushing Google’s MapsGL project:

      For additional context, Steve Seitz is a long time graphics expert from the University of Washington.

      The original Photo Tourism project (that inspired Photosynth at Microsoft Live Labs) was Noah Snavely’s Ph.D. thesis at University of Washington.

      Noah’s two advisors were Steve Seitz from University of Washington and Rick Szeliski from Microsoft Research.

      Back to what you said, though, there’s nothing particularly clunky about downloading a plugin for 3D graphics in a browser.

      Virtual Earth did it.
      Google Earth did it.
      Photosynth did it.
      (among many others)

      And all of them will have to continue to do it as long as they plan to support browsers that do not have WebGL support. (like IE 10, IE 9, etc.)

      That means every Internet Explorer user who is using:
      Windows Phone 7 (maximum IE9)
      Windows xp (maximum IE8)
      Windows Vista (maximum IE 9)
      XBOX 360 (maximum IE 9)

      will be forced to use Firefox, Opera, Chrome, or Safari to use WebGL (as long as they:
      a) have a GPU that supports shader model 2.0
      b) have the freedom to install another browser
      [meaning WP7 and XBOX 360 are out of luck]).

      You can say, “Google still requires the user to download clunky proprietary software” all you want, but the reality is that even before they had ported to WebGL, Google already made a Google Earth client and/or browser plugin for:

      Windows (even older versions)
      Mac OSX
      Linux
      iOS
      Android

      If the choice comes down to between:
      a) install a standalone 3D graphics plugin/app
      b) do not be able to use this 3D app on your device, ever
      then I’ll go with choice A, no matter how much of a Microsoft fan I am.

      If you wanted to criticize a major player for limiting the reach of their maps, you could criticize Apple for only making Apple Maps available on Apple devices so far, but Safari’s been working on getting WebGL support up and running for several years now, so there’s nothing to stop them from moving forward, if they decide that it is in Apple’s best interest to open their maps up to the web instead of making it a perk for Apple hardware owners.

      Between Siri now using Bing behind the scenes for web results and the fact that Bing Maps was collaborating with C3 Technologies (who Apple bought in 2011 to power the 3D portions of Apple Maps) in their Read/Write World project back in 2011 ( http://bit.ly/readwriteworld ), I would be interested to see if we see collaboration between Apple Maps and Bing Maps in their mutual battles against Google.

      • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

        Excellent info.

        But Google Maps doesn’t really do 3D — I was referring to Google Earth.

        • http://bit.ly/nathanaelphotosynth Nate Lawrence

          What I’m trying to tell you, though, is that MapsGL is Google Earth’s rendering functionality ported to WebGL (not too difficult, since Google Earth already used OpenGL to render on every platform anyway and WebGL is nothing more than an older version of OpenGL).

          Moreover, in years before WebGL support in browsers (or in years since WebGL support in older browsers like IE 10 and below), you could install the GE browser plugin and use Google Earth embedded in Google Maps.

          Google Maps has also been 3D on Android for awhile now.

          • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

            Yes, I’m aware of Google Maps. I was talking about Google Earth. I should have been more clear. You obviously don’t need to download anything for maps.

          • http://bit.ly/nathanaelphotosynth Nate Lawrence

            …Okay.

            So you’re clear that Google Maps does do 3D and has done since April 2010?

          • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

            Bing Maps launched 3D mapping in 2006 and it was inevitable that Google would follow, they always do.

            But which 2008 announcement are you referring to? At first I thought you meant Earth View (2010) which requires a clunky old plug-in download.

            Sounds like you might be confusing that with Street View (launched April 2008) or misread Wikipedia. Street View is not really 3D, it just looks it.

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    This is awesome news. Microsoft will use an open web API for Bing Maps 3D, while Google still requires the user to download clunky proprietary software.

    “although DirectX, of course, is not open source, and not used by any other browsers besides IE”

    Why such negative spin on the industry’s top graphics APIs? DirectX is used by every mainstream video game — Call of Duty, etc.

    • http://www.LiveSide.net Kip Kniskern – LiveSide.net

      No negativity implied, just pointing out that it’s a proprietary Microsoft technology.

      • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

        I’m just playing. I’m just overreacting to the word “although” really.

    • http://bit.ly/nathanaelphotosynth Nate Lawrence

      Actually, Tim, Google moved to WebGL for Google Maps back in October 2011.

      Here’s their blog post:
      http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2011/10/step-inside-map-with-google-mapsgl.html

      Here’s a little behind the scenes talk from Steve Seitz, who was one of the people pushing Google’s MapsGL project:

      For additional context, Steve Seitz is a long time graphics expert from the University of Washington.

      The original Photo Tourism project that inspired (Photosynth at Microsoft Live Labs) was Noah Snavely’s Ph.D. thesis at University of Washington.

      Noah’s two advisors were Steve Seitz from University of Washington and Rick Szeliski from Microsoft Research.

      Back to what you said, though, there’s nothing particularly clunky about downloading a plugin for 3D graphics in a browser.

      Virtual Earth did it.
      Google Earth did it.
      Photosynth did it.
      (among many others)

      And all of them will have to continue to do it as long as they plan to support browsers that do not have WebGL support. (like IE 10, IE 9, etc.)

      That means every Internet Explorer user who is using:
      Windows Phone 7 (maximum IE9)
      Windows xp (maximum IE8)
      Windows Vista (maximum IE 9)
      XBOX 360 (maximum IE 9)

      will be forced to use Firefox, Opera, Chrome, or Safari to use WebGL (as long as they:
      a) have a GPU that supports shader model 2.0
      b) have the freedom to install another browser
      [meaning WP7 and XBOX 360 are out of luck]).

      You can say, “Google still requires the user to download clunky proprietary software” all you want, but the reality is that even before they had ported to WebGL, Google already made a Google Earth client and/or browser plugin for:

      Windows (even older versions)
      Mac OSX
      Linux
      iOS
      Android

      If the choice comes down to between:
      a) install a standalone 3D graphics plugin/app
      b) do not be able to use this 3D app on your device, ever
      then I’ll go with choice A, no matter how much of a Microsoft fan I am.

      If you wanted to criticize a major player for limiting the reach of their maps, you could criticize Apple for only making Apple Maps available on Apple devices so far, but Safari’s been working on getting WebGL support up and running for several years now, so there’s nothing to stop them from moving forward, if they decide that it is in Apple’s best interest to open their maps up to the web instead of making it a perk for Apple hardware owners.

      Between Siri now using Bing behind the scenes for web results and the fact that Bing Maps was collaborating with C3 Technologies (who Apple bought in 2011 to power the 3D portions of Apple Maps) in their Read/Write World project back in 2011 ( http://bit.ly/readwriteworld ), I would be interested to see if we see collaboration between Apple Maps and Bing Maps in their mutual battles against Google.

      • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

        Excellent info.

        But Google Maps doesn’t really do 3D — I was referring to Google Earth.

        • http://bit.ly/nathanaelphotosynth Nate Lawrence

          What I’m trying to tell you, though, is that MapsGL is Google Earth’s rendering functionality ported to WebGL (not too difficult, since Google Earth already used OpenGL to render on every platform anyway and WebGL is nothing more than an older version of OpenGL).

          Moreover, in years before WebGL support in browsers (or in years since WebGL support in older browsers like IE 10 and below), you could install the GE browser plugin and use Google Earth embedded in Google Maps.

          Google Maps has also been 3D on Android for awhile now.

          • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

            Yes, I’m aware of Google Maps. I was talking about Google Earth. I should have been more clear. You obviously don’t need to download anything for maps.

          • http://bit.ly/nathanaelphotosynth Nate Lawrence

            …Okay.

            So you’re clear that Google Maps does do 3D and has done since April 2010?

          • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

            Bing Maps launched 3D mapping in 2006 and it was inevitable that Google would follow, they always do.

            But which 2008 announcement are you referring to? At first I thought you meant Earth View (2010) which requires a clunky old plug-in download.

            Sounds like you might be confusing that with Street View (launched April 2008) or misread Wikipedia. Street View is not really 3D, it just looks it.

  • Simen Mangseth

    Great news! But the Birds Eye functionality was sort of 3D somewhere, wasn’t it? So what happens to Birds Eye?

  • Simen Mangseth

    Great news! But the Birds Eye functionality was sort of 3D somewhere, wasn’t it? So what happens to Birds Eye?