Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The mysterious disappearance of the Microsoft Live Search Maps add-in for Outlook

For several years now, Microsoft has provided a plug-in for Outlook which provided some nice mapping functionality for calendar entries, contacts, etc, using Virtual Earth aka Live Search Maps. I briefly tried this, and liked it, several years ago but haven't looked at it for a while, not least as I've been using Mac for the past couple of years now.

Anyway, we have started work on an Outlook add-in for whereyougonnabe, so I thought a logical thing to investigate would be this existing Live Search Maps add-in for Outlook - it would be an easy way of associating a location with a calendar entry, including validation of the location with a nice interactive map, all within Outlook. But when I started looking for it, I found lots of references to it online, but the add-in seems to have mysteriously vanished.

For example, this post on 12 Cool Outlook Add-Ins To Make Your Inbox More Social And Productive, dated April 17th, 2008, says:

The Live Search Map add-in for Outlook lets you add maps and directions to the meeting requests while sending it to the attendees, calculate travel distance and estimate travel time between locations, add meeting reminders with estimated travel time blocked in the calendar.

You can see the maps in various types of views like 3D, aerial, road, bird’s eye etc., print map and directions and even save the details for viewing offline.

However, when you follow the link it includes, which should take you to an Outlook site, this just redirects you to the maps.live.com site, with no sign of an Outlook add-in. Several other links I found did the same thing (for example from a glowing review by Ars Technica). Mysterious!

After a bit more hunting around, I found several recent Microsoft support posts talking about problems with the Live Search Maps add-in. This one on MSDN, dated 22 October 2008, says:

Several million of you have downloaded the Live Search Maps Add-in for Outlook which allows integration in Outlook with maps and has some cool functionality around extending your appointment blocks to account for automatically calculated travel time among other things. We have received a large number of support cases that are caused either directly or indirectly because of this add-in. These include hangs, crashes, and leaks.

It then talks in quite a lot of technical detail about the problems caused, and says that it may cause data corruption problems, before saying (the emphasis is mine):

The long-term plan for what to do about all the problems in this add-in has not been determined at the time of writing of this blog, but it may result in the download being removed from microsoft.com. This won’t help you fix up any items that already exist in your calendar though – nor will it prevent users from using the add-in if they already have it downloaded and installed.

Another support bulletin from Microsoft, dated December 16, 2008, describes how to uninstall the plug-in, saying:

The Live Search Maps add-in for Microsoft Office Outlook can cause significant problems for users of Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007. These problems can cause Outlook to crash or to perform other undefined behavior. Additionally, the Live Search Maps Add-in creates items that have incorrect values. These incorrect values create problems with messaging applications.
The process to remove the add-in and clean up data seems fairly complex.

I haven't been able to find any information online to confirm this, but it seems to me that the add-in has indeed been removed, presumably because of these problems. For an add-in that is used by "several million" people (according to Microsoft), and clearly provides useful functionality (if it is working correctly), this seems a pretty unprofessional approach. I would expect that the original download page should still be there and should make some statement about the problem and what is being done to fix it, or whether this functionality is just being abruptly discontinued.

Does anyone out there know anything about this? Anyone from Microsoft care to fill us in?

15 comments:

Steven said...

Just because they've discontinued the Live Search Maps add-in for Outlook does not mean you can no longer continue to use it, as I have done with no problems whatsoever. No problems whatsoever that is until a few weeks ago when the application stopped working altogether. The reason, I discovered is that Microsoft has upgraded Virtual Earth to version 6.1 and the final version of the add-in references version 4.0, the javascript for which no longer exists on Microsoft's servers.

To fix the problem, I altered the reference to the javascript in the "C:\Program Files\Live Search Maps for Outlook\HTML\MapControl.html" file so that it read "http://dev.virtualearth.net/mapcontrol/mapcontrol.ashx?v=6
" instead of "http://dev.virtualearth.net/mapcontrol/v4/mapcontrol.js". I imagine that this will not be a one-time fix as Virtual Earth will no doubt evolve over time and I will have to point the add-in to the newest version of the Virtual Earth javascript as the older versions are phased out.

This fix assumes that you have the add-in installed. If it is not installed and you do not have the installer package, you're out of luck. Thankfully, I'm the anal retentive kind of guy who saves all his installer packages in a "My Installation Files" folder.

Steven said...

Another problem I've been having with the Live Search Maps add-in for Outlook is that the pushpin icons haven't been showing up. To fix this, I changed the VEBaseUrl variable in the C:\Program Files\Live Search Maps for Outlook\JS\LEO.js file from "http://maps.live.com/i/bin/" to "http://dev.virtualearth.net/mapcontrol/v6.2/i/bin/".

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KRJM said...

Steven, you're a genius.

I'm bookmarking this entry. Your solution for fixing already installed Live Maps worked perfectly.

Mine suddenly stopped working on me - now it's working again.

Steven said...

KRJM,

I appreciate your calling me a genius, but I think you should withhold your praise until you read the following...

Earlier today, I noticed that the Live Search Maps add-in for Outlook was once again causing errors. I did a Google search to find the URL for the most recent Virtual Earth Javascript (http://ecn.dev.virtualearth.net/mapcontrol/mapcontrol.ashx?v=6.2) and changed the MapControl.html file accordingly. This only partially fixed the problem. While the error message went away and the map was once again displaying, the ability to put pushpins on the map was lost. I beleive that this is due to the fact that the use of 'VEPushpin' for creating a pushpin in all versions of Virtual Earth through version 4 was replaced with 'VEShape' in version 5. Versions 5-6.1 retained backwards compatibility for 'VEPushpin', but I am guessing that version 6.2 dropped that backwards compatibility. I am right now playing with the LEO.js file to see if I can fix the problem, but--since I'm not a programmer--I'm actually doing more harm than good and have error messages up the wazoo. If there are any programmers out there who are familiar with Virtual Earth, please help!!! We want our Live Search Maps add-in for Outlook back!

Steven said...

Perhaps my last post was a bit alarmist... I turn on my computer this morning, launched Outlook and the Live Search Maps add-in for Outlook was working fine. It would appear that Virtual Earth 6.2 DOES have backwards compatibility for VEPushpin, so nevermind my previous post. I guess I am a genius afterall. :-)

Mark said...

Great! I have also been able to fix the problem of not being able to view the maps with your instructions. Thanks Steven.

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Steven said...

I've been having more problems with Microsoft Live Search Maps for Outlook this past week. It all started after recovering from a hard drive crash (Thank God I backed up!). I reinstalled the plug-in and even modified the HTML and JS files so that it would work properly. However, everytime I open or create a new appointment I get a Just-In-Time Debugging dialog box in which I can click either "Yes" or "No". If I click "No" so as to chose not to debug, it pops up again 12 more times before finaly giving up and letting me into the appointment form. The plug-in works fine for the most part but if I try to get directions I get another Just-In-Time Debugging dialog box which goes away after 9 clicks on "No" and crashes the plug-in. I can click "Yes" on the Just-In-Time Debugging dialog boxes, but I'm not exactly sure how to solve the problem. Is anyone else experiencing similar issues?

Steven said...

I've been having some trouble in the past few weeks with Live Search Maps for Outlook giving me an error message whenever I open or create an appointment. Everything was working fine, but I'd have to click "no" on the error dialog numerous times to get through to the Outlook appointment form. The error had something to do with a javascript file on Microsoft's servers called "s_code.js". I'm not 100% sure what this is, but I think it has something to do with logons since the part of the code that was causing the error to happen mentioned something about an "s_account". Anyway, I figured out that this javascript is referenced in the "C:\Program Files\Live Search Maps for Outlook\HTML\MapControl.html" file in line 43. I just deleted the line and now everything works perfectly. So if you're having the same problem as me, that's how to fix it.

Steven said...

The Bing Maps API has been upgraded to version 6.3. As a result, my pushpins stopped showing up in the Live Search Maps add-in for Outlook. I remedied this by:

1) changing the reference to the javascript in the "C:\Program Files\Live Search Maps for Outlook\HTML\MapControl.html" file from reading "http://ecn.dev.virtualearth.net/mapcontrol/mapcontrol.ashx?v=6.2" to reading "http://ecn.dev.virtualearth.net/mapcontrol/mapcontrol.ashx?v=6.3"; and

2) by changing the reference to the javascript in the "C:\Program Files\Live Search Maps for Outlook\JS\LEO.js" file from reading "http://dev.virtualearth.net/mapcontrol/v6.2/i/bin/" to reading "http://dev.virtualearth.net/mapcontrol/v6.3/i/bin/".

Hope this fixes any problems you may be having!

Ed said...

I've been using Live Local for Outlook for years and have found it to be very useful with gauging my travel time to and from appointments. Since Microsoft stopped supporting the software, I have had limited success getting it back up and running. Thank you, Steven for posting the updated code I needed to get it working once again. I am having an issue with travel time posting to my calendar. Any ideas on how I can get the travel time to post?

Steven said...

***WARNING***
Do not install Outlook 2010! Microsoft Live Search Maps add-in for Outlook will not work with Outlook 2010. I upgraded and the add-in was disabled. I had to reenable it each time I opened outlook in order to get it to work. It prompted me to "update" the add-in each time I did this, but each time the update failed and there was no difference between clicking "Yes" and clicking "No". I tried to uninstall and reinstall the add-in, but it won't reinstall in Outlook 2010. If I can, I'm going to uninstall Outlook 2010, reinstall Outlook 2007, reinstall the add-in, and then reinstall Outlook 2010 and then work from there. I just hope that I'll be able to do that.

Doug Watson said...

Any suggestions for putting maps in calendars for 2010 users? I'd REALLY like it to include maps when I type in the location... I do a lot of scheduling for other people too, and this would be terribly convenient.

Steven said...

Doug,

It can be done.

What you will need
------------------
1) Installation package for either Outlook 2003 or 2007
2) Installation package for Outlook 2010
3) Installation package for Live Search Maps add-in
4) Lots of patience.

How to do it
------------
1) Uninstall Outlook 2010
2) Install Outlook 2003 or 2007
3) Install Live Search Maps add-in
4) Reinstall Outlook 2010

The add-in will be hard disabled by default. Each time you launch Outlook 2010, you will need to reenable the add-in as per the instructions found here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms268871(v=vs.80).aspx