MSN announces satellite-mapping service

Scheduled to launch this summer, MSN Virtual Earth will allow users to zoom in on a neighborhood and its businesses.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates previewed new satellite-mapping technology designed to compete with local-search offerings from Google, Yahoo and Amazon.com.

Gates, presenting at the "D" conference in Carlsbad, Calif., on Monday introduced MSN Virtual Earth, a map service that lets visitors zoom in on a local area and get information about restaurants, cafes, hotels, dry cleaners, and so on. Gates said the service will be available this summer.

MSN Virtual Earth will provide a "core set of reference points," such as maps, aerial imagery, photos, consumer and business directories, and ratings and reviews, according to the company.

Microsoft is playing defense against many new local-search and mapping tools from rivals. Google, for example, bought satellite mapping service Keyhole earlier this year and has introduced new interactive maps.

Amazon.com's A9.com is working on a nationwide project to take digital photos of all U.S. businesses for an online service called BlockView, which pairs photos to business information. Yahoo has also integrated Yahoo Maps and local search to create a data-rich source of regional services.

MSN Virtual Earth includes satellite maps with 45-degree views of buildings and neighborhoods, and an overlay of street images. It also includes an online clipboard, or scratch pad, so users can take notes while performing multiple searches.

The service will also include a Wiki-like feature that lets visitors and business owners add information about local services to the database.

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