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MSN Virtual Earth now a reality

Virtual gateway to the globeMicrosoft on Sunday night released a beta of Virtual Earth, its web-based mapping service that combines local search with maps and aerial photography according to a recent report. The move comes some three weeks after Google released a beta of its Google Earth, and nearly a month after MSN unveiled a service combining satellite imagery with maps with its local search results. However, MSN’s Virtual Earth, like Google Earth, is focused primarily around maps and aerial views, allowing users to zoom in and out of maps or images and drag them around within the display area.

MSN Virtual Earth for now covers only the U.S. and major Canadian cities, and offers fewer local-search options than Google Earth, according to PC World. However, it opens in any browser and with a click connects with the MSN Spaces blogging site and other MSN services, allowing users to email or share satellite images, maps, and local-search results with others. The team behind it previously developed Microsoft’s MapPoint technology, which helped people find locations and directions online.