Microsoft's Streets & Trips makes a fine backseat driver, but you should leave this version at the rest stop. This trip planner delivers accurate and easy-to-understand driving directions and comes with some useful mapping tools, but it still suffers the same limitations of last year's version--namely, its lack of online integration. Plus, at $40, it's one of the more expensive options of its kind.
If you're on the road a lot, you might be better off with a dedicated GPS device, such as the Garmin StreetPilot III. As for finding quirky roadside attractions, you'll need to do some good, old-fashioned legwork online.
Streets & Trips 2004, like its predecessors, hogs disk space. But unless you want to keep the second CD in the drive every time you use Streets & Trips, we recommend installing the entire program instead of the minimum, even though it takes up 1GB.
The program's interface remains familiar, with three easy-to-navigate panes: a map of your highlighted route in the center, driving directions at the top, and a task pane on the left for route planning and finding nearby attractions. A toolbar atop the center screen includes shortcuts to planning tools and a slider for zooming in on your map. Another toolbar at the bottom houses drawing tools for marking maps. Neither toolbar is customizable.
Microsoft's mapmaker notes potential bumps in the road so that you can reroute if you're especially time-crunched. Here, Streets & Trips gave us a heads-up about bridge work between San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island.
To get started, simply enter starting and ending points, plus any intermediate stops. Click the Get Directions button, and your route pops up in seconds. If you decide to stop in Memphis instead of continuing on to Chattanooga, simply click the route on the map and drag it on top of Memphis; the program's Snap Routing feature automatically recalculates your journey. This program has an excellent range (it documents more than 6.7 million miles of roads in the United States and Canada), and in our tests, the directions were dead-on. The directions also note any bumps that may come up along the way by providing up-to-the-minute road construction information.
Streets & Trips 2004 introduces a few minor new features. One-way streets are now color-coded and marked--a useful addition, though we wish Microsoft had used a slightly brighter color. Business travelers will love the new options for calculating the amount and cost of fuel on a per-trip basis. You can also plug in your average driving speed for a more accurate driving-time estimate.
You can still mark favorite locales or interesting attractions with pushpin icons. You can also create your own pushpin images or add Web links to any pushpin's description.
Here in the middle of a New York City neighborhood known for lots of restaurants, we marked our favorite pizza joint with a pushpin.
Speaking of the Web, Streets and Trips 2004 still lacks content for evaluating destinations. If you're salivating for blackberry pie in the middle of Oregon, you can get numbers and addresses for local diners--but no pie-quality tips. A search for hotels offers the same disappointing result--no ratings, let alone built-in Web links for making reservations.
Streets & Trips offers fairly good printing options. You can now print a full-page map, but alas, there's still no preview option.
Microsoft upgraded the program's GPS support for Pocket Streets, the bundled application that lets you export maps to a Pocket PC device. If you have GPS gear connected to your Pocket PC handheld (the GPS must support NMEA 2.0 or later), you can see your location on the Streets & Trips map. You can also turn a map (or a map and driving directions) into a Web page and even set it to update every time you make a change to the map or route in Streets & Trips.
You'll get standard Microsoft service and support. There's a fairly thorough help file and decent built-in help (although we were irritated that we couldn't search for specific keywords from within the program). There are a few FAQs posted online, but if they don't help, you can try searching the Microsoft Knowledge Base. If you need help from a live human being, you can file an online help ticket or contact customer service by phone (available Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT).