We've officially launched our staging environment which allow you to access Virtual Earth features without incurring transaction costs for hitting production. Plus, we can stage new features allowing you to new stuff and regression test for backwards compatibility.

Here's the official communication from the product group:

"Better Reporting for Better Business Intelligence

The Microsoft Virtual Earth Customer Identification feature is an important part of the Virtual Earth platform. This feature allows you to access and view reports detailing your application’s platform usage from the Virtual Earth Platform Customer Services site. These reports display information about your Virtual Earth Platform usage, including both MapPoint Web Service transactions and Virtual Earth map control transactions.

As a licensed customer, you are required to use this identification feature as part of your service level agreement. It’s a convenient and accurate way to track how your investment is being utilized.

Benefits for licensed customers:

· Access to transaction reporting

· More accurate billing and auditing for customers without an unlimited usage license

· Access to the Virtual Earth Staging Environment to test client tokens, without being billed

· Better customer support from reporting information

Integrating the Virtual Earth Customer Identification feature into your Virtual Earth applications is a simple process for developers. Once you have implemented the Virtual Earth Customer Identification feature in your Virtual Earth application(s), you can access the Virtual Earth transaction usage reports by going to the View Reports page on the Virtual Earth Customer Services Site.

If you don’t already have a Virtual Earth Customer Identification, follow these instructions:

1. Get a Windows Live ID or use your existing one.

2. Create a Virtual Earth Platform developer account.

3. Use your developer account to get tokens from the staging token service.

4. Use tokens in your staging map control application.

5. Use your Windows Live ID to log into the Virtual Earth Customer Services site.

6. Go to the View Reports page to see your activity in the Staging Environment.

To learn more about implementing the Customer Identification go here.

New Staging Environment

The Microsoft Virtual Earth Staging Environment offers you a free staging area to try out new features and functionality, including the Virtual Earth Customer Identification feature. Perform small-scale testing in the Staging Environment, watermarked as “staging” for clear differentiation, without impacting your billing.

Here’s what you can do in the Staging Environment:

· Evaluate the platform and develop with the latest features for free

· Test new applications without being billed or impacting your production environment

· Build the next version of your Virtual Earth application without impacting your current version

For more information on the new Staging Environment, check out the “Implementing Client Identification” article on MSDN."

I'll post some code samples in the next couple days, but this is pretty much the same thing you'd use for any application, but it does require token authentication.

"But, Chris, the token system requires a production account!?!?"

Not any more. The token system for staging requires an account, but doesn't require production access (thus, no contract is required for staging access).

CP