The fascinating re-fashioning of Microsoft from a software company into an information leviathan is gathering pace with news that Redmond plans to send a fleet of camera cars down European streets to create a rival to Google’s Street View.

Called Streetside and tied Google-style into Bing Maps, Microsoft appears to have learned from some of the privacy battles endured by the search pioneer in the last four years. Faces will automatically blur from day one and in Germany at least users will be able to have their houses removed from the service.

Another thing Microsoft has learned from Google’s experience is which streets it is probably worth bothering with and which are neighbourhoods that are so dull nobody will care if they are ignored. Expect all of London to appear in Streetside but not outlying areas of Rotherham, for instance.

Coming second has its advantages.

MS Streetside.jpg


The whole project is more than a Google catch-up, however, and it is clear that Microsoft has suddenly worked out how important realtime street data is likely to be for any company with a mobile software platform to push.

That’s Streetside’s deeper agenda - Windows Phone - and another hint that Microsoft is going to plough on with the operating system in an effort to match Android. With pockets deep enough to throw money at a mapping-to-street system with no income, few doubt its ability to get there.

Apple is currently lagging badly in this area, forcing it to use Google on the iPhone and whatever it is rumoured to be coming up as a fallback. The company will likely move to its own mapping engine in time but it still won’t have an equivalent to Street View or Streetside.

Can Apple take on Android and Windows in mobile without its own mapping and street data? Once this would have sounded crazy. Apple makes nice devices and software. But it's a data game now and the company is barely in thrid place.

This lag raises the possibility that Microsoft’s camera cars might not be the final wave of nuisance vehicles to hit the backroads.