Microsoft built what was basically Google Earth 4 years before Google — and it threw it all away

In 1997, Microsoft built Terraserver, a vast one terabyte storage system that was the forefather to the big data centres today. On it, the company hosted the first-ever publicly available satellite imagery of the world. Essentially, Microsoft built Google Earth — four years before Google.

Unfortunately, Microsoft executives didn’t see the potential of what the company had done and the project was killed, according to Motherboard. Seeing your house from space was not, they reasoned, something a normal person would want to do.

“[T]he company didn’t care about the information [on Terraserver],” Tom Barclay, the man behind the project, told Motherboard. “Google was an information company first. They saw the value of the information.”

Hindsight is 20/20 and both Google and Microsoft have grown into two of the biggest companies on Earth with respective market valuations of $US505 billion (£332 billion) and $US420 billion (£277 billion).

Terraserver, in its 1997 form, could have been Microsoft’s future, but the company chose to use it to host other people’s data and is now one of the biggest hosting companies in the world with tens of billions in revenue per year.

The information Google gleaned from launching Earth in 2001 likely became part of Mail, Drive, and Search, all of which are key parts of Google’s strategic focus, generating slightly fewer billions than Microsoft.

“The very first demo we did, I chopped Bill Gates’s house in half, which was not very good,” Barclay told Motherboard. “In the first year, I got 20,000 emails, and the vast majority of them said one of two things: ‘I love Terraserver, I saw my house’ or ‘I hate Terraserver, I didn’t see my house.'”

It would seem that Microsoft executives were in the latter camp and so Google got to put the whole world inside a computer. You can read Motherboard’s full interview with Barclay here.

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