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Did you know Microsoft invented Google Earth?

No, really. In 1998 Microsoft wanted to demonstrate its SQL Server database engine with a terabyte-sized database, so it built a map called Terraserver. Motherboard's Jason Koebler has the story:

Terraserver could have, should have been a product that ensured Microsoft would remain the world’s most important internet company well into the 21st century. It was the first-ever publicly available interactive satellite map of the world. The world’s first-ever terabyte-sized database. In fact, it was the world’s largest database for several years, and that Compaq was—physically speaking—the world's largest computer. Terraserver was a functional and popular Google Earth predecessor that launched and worked well before Google even thought of the concept. It let you see your house, from space.

So why aren’t we all using Terraserver on our smartphones right now?

Probably for the same reason Microsoft barely put up a fight as Google outpaced it with search, email, browser, and just about every other consumer service. Microsoft, the corporation, didn't seem to care very much about the people who actually used Terraserver, and it didn’t care about the vast amount of data about consumers it was gleaning from how they used the service.

In sum, Microsoft saw itself as a software company, not an information company. It's similar to how Borders got destroyed: it thought of itself as a bookstore, while Amazon thought of itself as a delivery service.

I remember how cool Terraserver was, and how sad I felt when it disappeared for a couple of years before it morphed into Google Earth.


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