Microsoft AutoRoute 2004 review

We all like to think that we’re the most competent drivers around and our directional skills, the best in the country. In reality most of us get lost, have no idea on how to get to places like Higham Gobion or Ugly and then blame a rogue tractor or Sunday driver when we are running late. The fact that you turned left instead of right has nothing to do with it.

Over the past 10 years Microsoft has been helping us find the way with its AutoRoute software package but how does the newest version fare against the free web services like multimap.com and streetmap.co.uk that are both fast, free and accessible wherever you are?

In the latest update, Microsoft AutoRoute 2004 offers improved and updated maps and better integration with GPS navigators. Users of the current series will notice little change in the interface as they load the intro screen. Microsoft has worked hard to create a useable interface and as the proverb goes - if it ain't broke then don't fix it. Options can be chosen from toolbars dedicated to the choice at the top and information is displayed in a series of closable folder and display windows rather like Microsoft Outlook.

From the outset you have the choice of either clicking on a map of the world to pinpoint your desired location or you can simply type in the address in the space provided. Location by address is a fickle option for anywhere outside the UK and even though we knew friends’ addresses in Europe AutoRoute 2004 had trouble locating them quickly and easily.

New to this year’s edition is a drivetime zone feature. This supposedly allows you to calculate how long it would take to drive for a specific time from a set location. While this seems like a good idea in theory, in reality it suffers from the same problems that all road direction software can never really account for - traffic. According to AutoRoute it would only take an hour to travel from Richmond in South West London to Maidstone in Kent , something which seems almost impossible given traffic in the city and the 88km that you would have to travel.

Also added to this edition are one way signposts on the map, allowing to anticipate this when it comes to driving down the road and planning your route. While Microsoft makes big notions about this, and rightly so, it seems a too little too late, why, one has to ask have we had to wait so long for what seems like such a simple feature?

For the GPS location fans among us, AutoRoute has improved its functionality on this front. Due to changes outside Microsoft's control, the governing body has reduced the update time needed for all GPS locators. What this means in real terms is that your locator will update every second rather than every 15. Microsoft taking this in hand, have improved the software to account for this new improved service and so working on a laptop that is connected to a GPS locator will allow you to treat the system like a SatNav system normally found in cars.

Verdict

If you've already invested in the AutoRoute experience there isn't really enough to urge you to buy this latest update. If you ask any motorist whether they have a map in the car, the answer is invariably yes. Ask them how old that map is and most of us still carry one from last century that's tatty and well thumbed. The same applies for this software. Yes there are new features and roadmaps for the UK and Europe have been updated but you can't help feeling that there isn't really enough here to warrant the outlay. For the newcomer, the same applies to some extent. There is no doubt that the AutoRoute is an in-depth package that offers plenty and with the GPS location option updated to fit current standards as a Sat Nav system this is probably cheaper than investing in a dedicated system for the car.

However, with so many UK and European-specific sites for free on the web offering the same service. If you find that you're only likely to use this device at home then you're probably be better off saving your cash to pay for the car to be washed. That way, if you do get lost, at least you'll look good.