Microsoft's debut last week of a test version of its Virtual Earth mapping site was overshadowed by some unexpected discoveries —...

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Microsoft‘s debut last week of a test version of its Virtual Earth mapping site was overshadowed by some unexpected discoveries — mainly that Apple Computer’s Cupertino, Calif., campus was missing from the maps.

Evidence of some foul play on Microsoft’s part? Not exactly. But the finding did show that Microsoft was using some pretty old maps as the foundation for Virtual Earth.

The company said it was using aerial imagery from its Terraserver product, which digitizes images from the U.S. Geological Survey. For parts of Cupertino, including Apple HQ, the images used were from 1991.

It’s impossible for every image on Virtual Earth to be completely updated, but c’mon, using ones that are 14 years old should be out of the question — particularly for a site that purports to give accurate location information and driving directions. Virtual Earth also showed images of the World Trade Center buildings in Manhattan.

Microsoft emphasized last week that Virtual Earth is a beta product, and that many changes will be made before the final version. It’s a safe bet that Cupertino will get a virtual face-lift soon.

Searching for a view

Speaking of Microsoft and the Bay Area, the company is hosting a reception in Mountain View next week to introduce folks there to the MSN Search team. MSN executives, including search team vice president Christopher Payne and general manager Ken Moss, are promising to share the company’s vision and strategies for search at the event, scheduled for Aug. 8.

Mountain View is home to the biggest company in search right now. Will there be as many Google employees at the event as there were Microsoft employees at the opening of Google’s Kirkland office last year?

Microsoft’s employees, by the way, will be back at Safeco Field in September for the company’s annual employee meeting. Last year’s meeting was at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, home to the Seattle Opera, and attendance was limited to only 2,500. The workers who didn’t get in had to watch the event over a Webcast.

Safeco, with a seating capacity of about 47,000, is one of the few local venues that can accommodate Microsoft’s 28,000 Puget Sound-area employees.

Not top dog reported a solid second quarter last week, beating analysts’ expectations. But the company still ranks second for online retail purchases and is far behind the market leader, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Online auctioneer eBay ranked first, with 18.6 million purchases in May compared with 5.2 million at Amazon. But when it came to session conversion rate — the percentage of visits that turned into purchases — Amazon’s 4.7 percent trumped eBay’s paltry 2.8 percent.

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