Microsoft Gives Local Search a New View

Microsoft has added an enhanced satellite view, along with other new features, to its local search product, which it rebranded this week from Virtual Earth to Windows Live Local.

Beta 2 of the search service will go live here at 9:01 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Thursday, according to Microsoft. The beta includes the rebranding of the service and the addition of new zoom and "bird's eye" features to the service's satellite imagery, as reported Tuesday by the IDG News Service.

The new release also updates how users can find driving directions and save search information, according to Stephen Lawler, general manager of MapPoint and MSN Virtual Earth for Microsoft.

In Microsoft's Web-Based Services Family

The rebranding under the Windows Live moniker furthers Microsoft's plan of offering a range of Web-based services to compete with rivals like Google and Yahoo. The idea is ultimately to give Web users a seamless Web experience when they link with their social communities through applications such as search, instant-messaging, and e-mail.

In fact, Microsoft is providing application programming interfaces (APIs) for Windows Live Local so that third parties can build new applications that incorporate the service, Lawler said. "We fit in as the local pivot, providing global access to local knowledge," he said of the search service's place within Microsoft's Windows Live plan.

45-Degree Angled Views, Pushpins

The bird's-eye view in Windows Live Local provides a 45-degree angled view, as opposed to the standard 90-degree view that orthogonal satellite images usually provide, Lawler said. Rather than simply viewing locations and neighborhoods by their rooftops, which does not offer a very clear idea of what the area looks like, the bird's-eye view provides an angle that enables users to see more of the location and its surrounding area, he said.

Microsoft has also enhanced the interactive capabilities of the service's driving directions, pushpin, and scratch-pad technologies. In the first beta of Virtual Earth, released in July, users could create pushpin locations on a map, but they were limited in how they could use a marked location to generate driving directions and the like, said Steve Lombardi, Virtual Earth program manager for Microsoft.

Now, users can create their own pushpins by right-clicking on a location and giving it a title, he said, demonstrating Wednesday how the new service works. Right-clicking on a pushpin-marked location also enables users to write notes about it using Windows Live Local's scratch-pad technology, and to save those notes so for sending via e-mail or bookmarking with a browser permalink.

Full Version in 2006

Microsoft plans to offer a full-production version of Windows Live Local in the first half of 2006, Lombardi said. He said that the company is currently expanding the service's geographic coverage to put it on a par with the coverage provided by MSN's Maps and Directions search product, which covers 30 countries.

Microsoft has added the United Kingdom to the second beta of Windows Live Local, but plans to expand far beyond that, Lombardi said. Once Windows Live Local can deliver local search information for at least as many countries as Maps and Directions, Microsoft will "remove the beta label," he said.

Microsoft also plans to enhance the kind of information that users can search for through the service, going beyond business information and directions to reach specific local events, user favorites, and other information from sources other than standard Yellow Pages, Lombardi said.

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