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.