Wednesday, May 14, 2008

WorldWide Worthless

This morning I received an email from my mother-in-law with the subject line: "Travel to the Stars!' Naturally, I was intrigued. She wanted to know whether I had heard about the new free program from Microsoft called WorldWide Telescope, just released yesterday. I had actually seen some of the headlines and my impression was: oh, Microsoft is trying to compete with Google Sky, which came out last August. But to be fair, I decided to download the new software and try it out.

My first complaint is that WorldWide Telescope only runs under Windows (surprise!). Google Sky also runs on Mac and Linux machines. I decided to install it on a laptop I use for presentations, where I had successfully installed Google Sky several months ago. I went to the website at, which looked very nice, and downloaded the 20 MB install application. No problem. When I ran this application, it downloaded an additional 90 MB of Microsoft software that WorldWide Telescope depends on. Everything seemed to install just fine, so I clicked the new shortcut that had been placed on my desktop. The program loaded and a dialog box appeared with instructions about what to do with my mouse to control the interface. Looks a lot like Google Sky. So I started to pan around the sky -- and within a few seconds the program crashed. I rebooted the machine for a fresh start, launched the program and tried to pan again -- another crash. And a third. And a fourth.

At this point, I decided to uninstall the software and everything that came with it. I also decided to check that my copy of Google Sky was still working -- and thankfully, it was. In the process I also discovered that Google now has a version of Sky that runs in the maps interface through a web browser. If you go to the WorldWide Telescope website you can watch flash movies of children's reactions as they explore the sky through the software. Microsoft is great at public relations, but not so great at writing software that actually works. As for me, I'm sticking with Google Sky.