Microsoft updates mapping Web service

Microsoft Thursday released an upgrade to its set of Web-based services that can be used to add location-aware features to applications that run on devices ranging from mobile phones to personal computers.

Microsoft's mapping service, called MapPoint .Net Version 3.0, was made available with new features and geographical information for customers that use the service to add features such as driving directions and mapping to consumer and business applications.

MapPoint .Net is Microsoft's first .Net Web service, said Steve Lombardi, product manager for MapPoint.Net. Web services are applications delivered over the Internet that make use of industry standard technologies including XML (Extensible Markup Language) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol).

One example of how the service can be used is with a customer relationship management application that provides geographical information about a customer, such as driving directions to the customer's place of business. CRM software maker E.piphany Inc. announced in September it would use the service to build mapping features into its sales software suite.

New data in version 3.0 includes a number of maps, including expanded street-level data for Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. It also includes new street-level data for selected cities in Ireland, Finland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Puerto Rico.

"With each major release of MapPoint .Net, we add data for new geographies and new software-level features," said Lombardi. "That's always a customer issue; your mapping service is only as good as the data underneath it."

MapPoint .Net now also includes more than 16 million listings for U.S. businesses, made available by data provider Acxiom Corp. In addition to pinpointing the locations of destinations such as hotels and restaurants, which are currently included in the service, it now includes data on any number of businesses listed in a phone book.

"If it's in the Yellow Pages, it's in there," Lombardi said.

New software features in the release primarily are designed for developers who build mobile applications that tie into the MapPoint .Net. A new optimization feature allows maps to be better rendered on devices with small displays. One other minor update is better control over the street names and other geographic identifications that show up on maps created by Microsoft customers.

Microsoft has also forged some partner deals that enable it to tie-in information about road construction so that driving directions delivered through the service reflect out-of-service roads. A future release will be able to deliver real-time traffic conditions, Lombardi said.

Finally, the company has added a feature that makes use of a technology called "reverse geocoding." With it, a location known by its longitude and latitude coordinates can be converted into a street address. "This is very useful in GPS-based (Global Positioning System) applications," such as in-car navigation systems, Lombardi said.

The Redmond, Washington, software maker also announced it has completed its acquisition of Vicinity Corp., which will contribute technology to the MapPoint .Net business division. Microsoft agreed to pay about US$96 million in cash to purchase the Sunnyvale, California, company.

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