RealTime IT News

Microsoft Debuts Street-Level Search

Microsoft today launched a beta version of MSN's Virtual Earth, an answer to Google's satellite image search.

Much like Google Earth, the MSN tool provides detailed street-level maps and point-of-interest information throughout the United States. Viewers can pan and zoom crisp images along particular travel routes, visit detailed photos of cities or just take a scenic ride through their favorite neighborhood.

"When you're in an unfamiliar city and need to find a nearby Chinese restaurant or ATM within walking distance of your hotel, a traditional Internet search experience won't give you the visual location-specific information you need," said Stephen Lawler, general manager of the MapPoint business unit and MSN Virtual Earth at Microsoft.

However, this early version is more akin to a "Virtual United Sates" than Virtual Earth. Still under development, the tool is limited to satellite images of this country. Google Earth, however, is a true mapping of the globe with images as far away as Ulaan Baatar and as near as your local supermarket.

Microsoft said it intends to eventually provide local search anywhere on the planet.

Virtual Earth, offered free as part of MSN, integrates with the local features of MSN Search, MapPoint technologies and aerial imagery from TerraServer-USA and provides users with expansive search results, according to the software giant.

"MSN Virtual Earth provides a deeply immersive search experience that lets people see what it's like to be in a location and easily explore what they can do there," Lawler said.

MSN said it will incorporate oblique, or bird's-eye, imagery licensed from Pictometry, depicts cities, landmarks and points of interest at a 45-degree-angle view.

For now users can map a particular location and then search local listings for local businesses or plan driving routes.

Amazon.com is also gearing up for a similar launch, working off its existing database of street-level photos of businesses from A9 search service. When it launched in January 2005, A9 had around 20 million photos of businesses in 10 major United States cities.