Chicago Tribune columnist makes stuff up

A very confused James Coates in the Chicago Tribune does a comparison between Google Earth and MSN Virtual Earth, and doesn’t once mention Google Maps. He also gets his facts wrong on several counts, for example:

With the fancy satellite photos replacing (if you want) traditional road and street maps, both outfits offer slick tour features.

That’s not the case, clearly. But the biggest problem with this column is that he basically makes up how he assumes Bill Gates must have come across Google Earth, to which Virtual Earth is the response:

Word has it that Bill Gates, potentate of propeller heads, went bonkers when he sat down, logged on to and saw Google’s stunning marriage of satellite photos and Web search engines.

It went something like this: Gates typed in a street address, town and state and watched as an image of the entire Earth floating in space began to spin.

It goes on, until he has Gates ordering development of his own version. “Word has it”? Google Earth only came out three weeks before MSN Virtual Earth. Gates would have seen Keyhole, Google Earth’s precursor, and could have done so ages ago, though not at that URL. Furthermore, it’s pretty well documented that Virtual Earth emerged from a company-wide contest, and that it was put on a fast track by Gates in response to Google Maps:

Google released Google Maps in February, a time when [Mark Law, lead product manager for Virtual Earth] said Microsoft already was working on Virtual Earth as the result of an idea sent to what he called the “world’s coolest suggestion box.” He explained that every year at Microsoft, employees can suggest a product or an idea they think should be developed and have the opportunity to present it to Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.

The idea for Virtual Earth found its way to Gates last fall. He decided in February 2005 that the product should be ready for launch by July, Law said.

So either Law is lying, or Coates just makes stuff up.