We’ve all been speculating how this day would come. The EPA has licensed Virtual Earth for “mission critical” applications including customer applications on the internet as well as internal intranet applications. Many folks have been saying that it was only a matter of time before Google and Microsoft enter the domain of ESRI, Intergraph and Autodesk and it would appear on the surface this is a huge new shift for the GIS world. But underneath the news, we read that ESRI was critical to Microsoft getting this contract.

So what does this all mean. I think we are seeing that both public and private sector organizations want to give the best product to their customers (internal/external). That means using tools that folks are used to using. Virtual Earth and Google Maps/Earth are what these customers know how to use and are comfortable using them to get data and search for information. But on the back end, these organizations just don’t feel comfortable abandoning ESRI (or other geospatial companies) as they’ve got a huge relationship with them as well a their technical teams are used to using these “legacy” applications. The news of this relationship between Microsoft and the EPA, as well as ESRI’s tacit involvement might mean there could be huge new implementations of Virtual Earth in the near future. ESRI and Microsoft could be a great combination going forward in this Where 2.0 world.

Don’t forget thought that “ordinary” users don’t need Microsoft or ESRI to help them get their web based GIS applications on Virtual Earth. There are two good choices (here, here) to go, depending on what you want to get out of Virtual Earth.