Today, Microsoft will release MSN Virtual Earth - a new online local search product that directly challenges similar offerings from rival Google. The service provides both street-map and satellite views of locations and provides driving directions between places, just like Google Maps does. MSN Virtual Earth differs from Google Maps though in that it has the ability to pinpoint the location of a user on a WiFi network by using the WiFi access points nearby. Microsoft has worked with third parties to assemble a database of router MAC addresses and the latitude and longitude of those access points. This can then be used to triangulate the location of the user's device.

In a later release of the product expected to come out before the end of September, Microsoft also will add a "bird's eye" view of locations that lets users view aerial images not only from directly above but also from an angle, so they not only see the tops of buildings but also view them from the side, said Mark Law, lead product manager for Virtual Earth. Google Maps does not have that capability today.