Seeking an edge on Google Inc. in localized online search, Microsoft Corp. previewed on Monday a layered, geo-mapping service featuring aerial photographs and satellite images that it promised for later this year.
MSN Virtual Earth will offer detailed local search results that include actual glimpses of the pizza joints and coffee shops rather than just the rooftop views satellite images allow, the company said.
It also will let people layer multiple searches — say grocery stores and dry cleaners — onto a single map.
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The free service will be available this summer, but it won't include the aerial pictures right away.
High-fidelity images captured by a fleet of small planes will be added to the service in the fall, said Stephen Lawler, general manager of Microsoft's MapPoint business.
"You can really establish that what-is-it-like-there kind of feeling," Lawler said. "This is a game-changing kind of imagery for the Internet and for this kind of search experience we're trying to create."
Earlier this year, Google added satellite imagery to its free mapping service. And A9, Amazon.com Inc.'s A9 search engine introduced a feature that includes an index containing 20 million street-level photographs of building exteriors in 10 major cities.
Under an exclusive deal with a Rochester, N.Y.-based Pictometry International Corp., MSN Virtual Earth will offer photos that look down on buildings from a 45-degree angle.
The service will start out offering images in 15 or so major U.S. cities. More will be added later. Microsoft did not release a list of which cities would be featured at first.