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Round Britain with a blog

On the road with Microsoft's route planner

Peter Williams, a product manager at Microsoft, is bringing new meaning to the term 'road-testing'.

Peter is the marketing manager with responsibility for Microsoft's mapping tools, including MapPoint and AutoRoute. With a new version of AutoRoute set for release in a couple of months, Peter has taken it upon himself to put the product through its paces.

Taking a week off work, he persuaded his friend John Davies to join him in his 11-year old, 3.9 litre Land Rover, freshly decorated with AutoRoute logos, for a tour of Great Britain.

Their initial plan, to visit every pub named 'The Red Lion', foundered when they discovered just how many there were. So instead, the challenge is to visit the island's 'cardinal points': that is, the northern, southern, eastern and western extremities, plus a few other landmarks along the way.

The intrepid duo set off on 18 July, successfully covering the south-east corner of England, including the most easterly point on the Great Britain mainland (Lowestoft Ness), plus Greenwich as 'the centre of time', and Charing Cross as 'the centre of London' - although the precise spot proved rather difficult to locate.

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From there it's the tip of Cornwall, followed by a long trek through the West Midlands and the North West of England towards Ardnamurchan Point in Argyll, the most westerly point of the mainland, and Dunnet Head on the north coast, before returning to York, where the journey began.

Their guide for the week is a 'beta' version of AutoRoute 2006, running on an Acer TravelMate Tablet PC mounted on the Land Rover's dashboard. Aiding them on their way is a Hewlett Packard nx9110 laptop equipped with a 3G data card from Orange, an Orange SPV C500 smartphone, and an Olympus C-740 digital camera. They set off each morning without a hotel reservation for the following evening, making the booking online as they travel. Even the in-car entertainment is powered by the latest technology, in the form of Windows Media Player.

Each leg of the journey is being described on a blog, hosted on MSN's Spaces service. Not only does it allow them to record the various pieces of trivia they pick up as they go - such as the location of the UK mainland's largest wind turbine, or England's most easterly church, or the problem digital radio has with the time signal 'pips'; but it also lets people see how AutoRoute delivers real results in a real situation.

You can follow the remainder of their expedition, including pictures of every major stop, at www.autoroute2006.com

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