As software rivals, Microsoft (MSFT) wants to wipe Apple Computer (AAPL) off the map.

With Microsoft's new Web service for satellite photographs, did the world's largest software company find a way to do exactly that?

Internet sleuths discovered that anyone using Microsoft's new "Virtual Earth" Web site for a bird's-eye view of Apple's corporate headquarters saw only a grainy overhead photograph of what appears to be a single, nondescript warehouse and a deserted parking lot — not Apple's sprawling campus, with 11 modern buildings surrounding a plush courtyard.

Microsoft blames an outdated photograph. But Apple's headquarters in Silicon Valley (search) shows up more appropriately for anyone viewing the same location using Google's (GOOG) mapping Web site, which also combines many of the same government-funded satellite and aerial overhead photographs.

Is Microsoft's version of the landscape a fantasy for Bill Gates (search)?

Microsoft said its new mapping service, made available free during the weekend, was still in its testing phase and includes some older, black-and-white photographs from October 1991 for the neighborhood around Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The only dates displayed on the images are copyright notices from 2004 and 2005.

"This is about mapping for consumers," spokesman Adam Sohn said. "We pull the right addresses, it just seems the images are perhaps older."

Sohn said Microsoft is buying newer photographs for parts of the country, and many areas already include the most recent images available.

Google's mapping site includes color aerial photographs from October 2002 with more detail for Apple's neighborhood, provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (search).

One satellite expert said companies should provide more details, such as the date for each photograph, to help Internet users make sense of these images.

"It's a problem, one of the real challenges. There's a reason why most pictures in magazines and newspapers have captions," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org (search). "What's missing from this imagery is, there are no captions to tell you when the image was acquired or what you're seeing or why you should care."