Microsoft notches up map technology to compete with Google

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Update delivers Firefox support for 3D building images.

Microsoft has expanded the 3D capabilities of its Live Search Maps service to the UK.

Buildings in the UK cities of Plymouth, Cardiff, Bristol, Gloucester, and Wolverhampton are now displayed in 3D. Additional cities will be added in the future, a company spokesperson said.

The 3D images provide a more realistic view of city centres allowing users to virtually fly around buildings view them from all sides. Competing map services from Google and Yahoo lack such features.

The building images are created with the Vexcel mapping software that Microsoft acquired last year.

The addition of UK cities is part of a larger update. Microsoft added total of 16 cities, including San Diego in California and Portland in Oregon.

The update was launched on Tuesday afternoon Pacific Time. Some systems might receive the update at a slightly later time, the comapny cautioned.

Live Search Maps requires a special browser plug-in that previously was available only for Internet Explorer. As part of the update, the company now has also released a Firefox plugin.

The software vendor furthermore added features such as traffic condition overlays that are displayed when users look up directions. Businesses listed on the maps also have started linking to ratings and reviews and results from the mapping service now will automatically be included when users perform a local search query in Microsoft's Live Search engine.

The last three features are already available through Yahoo or Google.
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