Microsoft today announced that its multi-image Photosynth technology is being integrated into Virtual Earth, offering a commercial rival to Google's controversial Street View.

From today, businesses will be able to create detailed, browsable 3D views of anything from places to products and from hotels to homes, and embed them with Microsoft's Virtual Earth maps.

Unlike Google Street View, Microsoft will not be taking pictures of properties and roads itself. Instead, it is relying on consumers and businesses to upload images and create the interactive Photosynths.

The commercial update includes new controls that enable users to decide where and how they share synths by making synths public or unlisted on www.photosynth.net. This allows organisations to manage the availability and access to synths, giving control over the visual representation of their places and premises.

One-click highlights

Panoramic synths can now include user-defined highlights to showcase key images, and link through to sales information, websites or contacts.

Microsoft envisages that Photosynths will be used by a range of business, such as estate agents showing prospective buyers the inside and outside of properties, shops letting customers browse stores and products in detail, local governments illustrating services or land use, and for internal use, such as insurance risk assessment and claim processing.

Also today, NASA announced that it was making available Photosynths of the International Space Station and the next Mars Rover. You can see them at www.nasa.gov/externalflash/photosynth.

Over 12 million photos have already been uploaded as over 350,000 Photosynths, which requires Microsoft's Silverlight graphics plug-in.