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Microsoft folds new features into mapping service

Adds real-time traffic data, Outlook integration and expanded scratch pad features to Windows Live Local online service.

Microsoft unveiled on Tuesday night enhancements to its Windows Live Local online mapping service, incorporating real-time traffic data, integration with Outlook's calendaring function and expanded scratch pad features.

The company is also expanding the service to cover all of Europe and to offer bird's-eye views and local search for the United Kingdom and Canada.

Microsoft partnered with for traffic information, such as flow, incidents and construction, for 35 metro markets in the U.S., said Stephen Lawler, general manager of Microsoft's Virtual Earth business unit.

Click to view screen shots of Windows Live Local mapping service

The mapping is now integrated with Outlook XP and Outlook 2003, allowing users to embed maps and driving directions in calendar events. It also adjusts starting times to reflect the expected travel time.

Microsoft has turned the limited scratch pad feature into a more extensive Personal Collections function by way of which users with a Microsoft Passport account can save their favorite local searches and other information. Users can insert links to outside content, such as photos or video, in the Personal Collections listings and then share the link to the collection with others via e-mail, instant messaging or via their MSN Spaces blog.

"It's got a cleaner look--more 'Live' like, more immersive," Lawler said of the latest version of Windows Live Local. Its components can be dragged, expanded and retracted, he added.

The upgrade is the latest maneuver in the heated online mapping wars between Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and America Online's MapQuest, among others who are trying to expand their user base by offering all sorts of online services, and thus increase revenue from online advertising. While the latest Windows Live Local is an improvement over its predecessor, there are some features it lacks, like walking directions.

Microsoft launched the beta version of Windows Live Local late last year, integrating Virtual Earth aerial image technology, local search, driving directions and yellow pages with a bird's-eye view of major U.S. cities.

of the service in action.