The program offers much more than just driving directions.
With Web sites like Yahoo and MapQuest giving away maps and driving directions, it seems like a waste of money to buy a standalone program that basically does the same thing. To survive, software publishers need to offer a lot more than the online freebies.
Microsoft Corp.'s Streets & amp; Trips 2005 does just that.
Yes, it handles the basics well, but it also provides considerably more information about places and far more customization than its dot-com rivals ever could.
With Street & amp; Trips, you can enter multiple destinations at once and instantly have detailed driving directions and maps ready to print. After adding the price of gas and your driving style, it reports how long it will take -- and how much it'll cost.
The program also will figure out when to stop for fuel, provided it knows the car's mileage per gallon. If you tell it how long you're comfortable driving, it will add rest breaks. And it downloads up-to-date road construction information.
The maps themselves are completely customizable. The colored line that marks a suggested route can be dragged to other roads. The directions automatically recalculate. There are drawing tools available to mark up maps, too.
An extensive list of nearby places -- hotels and motels, landmarks, train stations, bank ATMs, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, police stations, among others -- can be called up with a click. In all, there are 1.8 million spots in the program's database.
Once the trip is planned, maps and directions can be printed in five different formats. Maps can be saved as Web pages for posting on the Internet.
Maps also can be downloaded to a handheld computer or cellular phone provided they're running Microsoft operating systems for those gadgets.
Streets & amp; Trips includes detailed road, political and terrain maps for the United States and Canada as well as terrain, boundaries and highways in Mexico. For the rest of the world, it only shows cities and borders. All maps can be viewed in a variety of resolutions.
The program, which only works on Windows-based PCs, takes up nearly a gigabyte of hard drive space, though there's an option to leave the map data on a CD.
Streets & amp; Trips 2005 is available in two flavors: A $30 basic edition (including $10 rebate) and a $129 version that includes a small Global Positioning System receiver that uses satellites to show exact locations on the maps. The mapping software is the same in both.
The GPS receiver worked well, though it needed to be outside or near a window to find the satellites used to determine position.
It's a pointless accessory when hooked up to a desktop -- at least after the excitement of finding the PC's exact longitude and latitude. Connected to a laptop via a USB cable, it's much more helpful.
A small indicator on the map pinpoints the location, and it moves along with the receiver. In my test, it accurately reported speed, altitude and direction. There's also an option to leave a trail, so I could see where I've been.
But it does not vocalize directions like GPS devices in some cars -- and DeLorme's (about $45) Street Atlas USA 2005 software -- can do.
I also borrowed a Hewlett-Packard Co. iPaq to test out how well it works with a handheld. The GPS receiver connects via a $45 dock. There's also a $100 wireless Bluetooth adapter.
After transferring a map from the PC to the handheld, an icon showed my exact location and moved as I walked around the neighborhood. Points of interest also appeared.
The biggest problem was the handheld and its limited memory. It couldn't store a large map -- say, of a large metro area or an entire state. On long trips to unfamiliar places, that means making some guesses in advance as to where the map might be needed.
Unfortunately, when it comes to getting lost, I just don't plan that far ahead.