It’s finally here! With the launch of Google Maps France and Europe, the area covered by Google satellite images now reaches beyond North America. The first European versions of the search engine’s mapping and directions tool, Google Maps, are now available online. Until now, the only Europeans to benefit from the Mountain View company’s mapping and satellite services were subjects of Queen Elizabeth. But the inquisitive eye of satellites has recently focused on certain swaths of France. Google Maps services work in metropolitan France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Digitization had previously been limited essentially to the major metropolitan areas of France (shown in dark brown), even though Google clearly seemed to have the technical means to cover pretty much the entire country. Now it’s been done!

For starters, the site sports a new logo. Also, the interface has been reworked so the search bar sits above tabs and the map automatically centers on Europe. Online maps are not always very detailed, but they can be paired with the satellite view.

Google Maps images, which are shared by Google Earth, have been considerably enhanced. Paris, whether because of the prestige factor or centralization, has a much higher resolution than any other metropolitan area. Resolution is now within meters, rather than tens of meters. With such detail, one can easily make out pedestrians, cars, and subway entrances.

Though maps are not always available, the Maps tool can still provide directions (itinerary, distance, and time to destination) within Europe and France, as well as locator services for metropolitan France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Note the "Find businesses" link. This service is still not available for all cities, but does display hits for capital cities.

Should competing French services like Mappy and ViaMichelin be worried? The arrival of Google, with its brand and the prestige of Google Earth, could certainly deal them a blow. For now, Google’s services are less comprehensive than its competitors, but the tables could be turned.