MSN Ships Local Search Beta 

Microsoft announced that today its MSN division will ship a US based beta version of MSN Local Search, the Web based search service that provides local search results. The company also announced that the Virtual Earth team has joined the MSN Search Group and that Virtual Earth features such as maps and satellite based imagery will be rolled directly into MSN Search. "The Virtual Earth team was previously part of Microsoft MapPoint," the company said.

The Virtual Earth team's years of experience will help MSN deliver the next wave of Local Search enhancements to connect consumers to the local information they're looking for a Microsoft representative told me late last week. Local Search will be available in beta and will give consumers the benefit of local search mapping technology and satellite images through MSN Search in the United States with results that are city and region specific and relate precisely to their search queries. Starting today MSN users in the United States who navigate to MSN.com will see a new Local category under the MSN Search options. MSN Local Search will query local White Pages and Yellow Pages directories so you can search for items such as movie listings restaurants and businesses in your area.

Local Search results are displayed as pins on a map so you can see their locations. TerraServer USA, provider of one of the world's largest databases of maps and aerial photography supplies the maps. Although it's now independent, TerraServer USA began as a Microsoft Research project.

MSN notes that MSN Local Search is an evolution of the Near Me functionality that debuted with MSN Search in February. For more information about MSN Search, see my review on the SuperSite for Windows. 

EU Pushes Judicial Change in Microsoft Antitrust Case 

According to a Reuters report, the top judge in the second highest court in the European Union (EU) wants to remove the judge who's currently overseeing Microsoft's antitrust case. Judge Bo Vesterdorf, president of the EU's Court of First Instance contacted both Microsoft and the European Commission over the weekend to apprise them of the plan.

Judge Hubert Legal (yes, seriously) heads the panel of five judges that's currently hearing the Microsoft case. However, Judge Legal is under fire for a controversial article he wrote published in a French journal in which he referred to judges clerks as ayatollahs of free enterprise who give the impression of arbitrary power. The comments angered various EU judges and presumably their clerks.

According to Judge Vesterdorf, the EU should move Microsoft's case to a larger judicial panel which he will head. Members of the EU's 25 judge Court of First Instance will meet this week to vote on the proposal. Judge Legal originally planned to conclude the case by mid-2006, so the court will have to consider how such a plan could affect the case's schedule.

This isn't the first time that a judge involved with a Microsoft antitrust case has found himself in legal hot water because of controversial comments. US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson was eventually removed from Microsoft's US antitrust case after reporters published his negative comments about the company. Judge Jackson has said that his comments weren't supposed to have been published until after the trial had concluded.