Microsoft Enters Mapping Wars

Websites like Google Earth have given us a bird's eye view of the world. Until now, that world was flat.

But that's about to change, CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason reports.

"The real power of this application is when you actually turn to see the angle of the buildings," Microsoft's Alex Daley says.

Daley gave CBS News an exclusive first look at "Virtual Earth 3-D," Microsoft's new mapping service that goes online Monday night. From the "Live.com" website, you'll be able to swoop down into Las Vegas, fly up the strip, and soar over the Hoover Dam.

"It really gives you a feel for the location that you could never get before," Daley says.

You can also drop in on Los Angeles.

"So the user's absorbing a ton of visual information about what a place is really like. What's near what? How is L.A. laid out," Daley explains. "Where's the Staples Center in relation to Dodger Stadium?"

It's different from Google Earth, Daley says, because "this is a singularly unique experience. Virtual Earth is really about creating a fully 3-D realistic model of the world."

Initially, 15 major American cities have been mapped in 3-D, but within five years, Microsoft plans to map around 5,000 around the world.

Microsoft is investing "hundreds of millions of dollars" in this, John Curlander with Microsoft Virtual Earth says.

From the air, mapping companies have been taking high resolution images to create a database. Now on the ground, vans equipped with multiple cameras are driving cities all over the country, firing off millions of images in every direction. Those pictures will lead to Virtual Earth's next step: a street-level 3-D map.

The idea is that from your computer at home, you'll be able to walk down a street anywhere in the world. And if you pass a store that interests you, you'll actually be able to go inside and go shopping.

"Ultimately, the goal is for this thing to become alive," Curlander says.

Google and Microsoft are fighting an air war for your eyeballs. Virtual Earth 3-D has just lifted the game to another level.