Frank Gruber over at TechCrunch has posted an article comparing the major online mapping services from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Ask and MapQuest. Frank puts the Yahoo! Maps Beta at the front of the pack, but clearly acknowledges the unique and interesting features that each of the others contenders bring to the table.

I, too, have been using the Y! Maps Beta as my mapping service of choice ever since it was released in November last year. You can go back and read my initial opinions on it here and here. While satellite imagery was missing from the initial release, the multi-point driving directions and live traffic reports were much more useful on a daily basis. Surprisingly, neither Google nor Microsoft have incorporated multi-point directions into their services yet, even though it's an invaluable feature, especially when planning longer trips with multiple stops along the way.

That's not to say that Y! wins across the board though, and there's always room for improvement. I prefer the way Windows Live Local handles local searches, for example - the ability to add different types of "points of interest" to the map simultaneously is a very useful feature that's still unique to Microsoft's service. Moreover, Bird's Eye (Aerial) view is less gimmicky compared to the regular satellite imagery, since it actually lets you see what the area looks like rather than giving you a rather useless look at roof-tops. And of course, we have Google to thank for initially kicking off the whole next-generation mapping revolution, but interestingly, I don't find anything compelling enough in the service anymore that the competition doesn't also have now. I'm sure the folks at the Goog aren't sitting quiet though, and I suspect we'll see some interesting new developments from them in the coming months too.

And that's the beauty of the online mapping space - all the major players are doing excellent work in an attempt to win new users and hold on to existing ones. There's good, solid, healthy competition, and we, as users, get a slew of great services to pick and choose from.

So what's your preferred online mapping service?