Microsoft on Thursday will unveil a beta version of Windows Live Local, which is based on its Virtual Earth aerial image application and integrates local search, mapping, driving directions and yellow pages with a bird's-eye view of major U.S. cities.

The service will offer a 45-degree bird's-eye view covering about one-quarter of the country's population. Cities include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Las Vegas.

The bird's-eye images, captured by Pictometry International using low-flying planes, are integrated with road and satellite maps to simulate 360-degree panoramas that can be viewed from any of the four different compass directions. Users can choose between directional views, for instance, to see the front or back sides of buildings, or zoom closer using on-screen navigation tools and preview tiles.

The new service also enables users to create customized maps by adding user-created pushpins, as well as annotate maps and share maps and local search information with others via e-mail by posting them as blogs on MSN Spaces or through MSN Messenger.

Users don't need to know the address or name of a place to locate its whereabouts, but can simply point and click to get directions. They can also click on a point on a map, including on a parking lot, building or open space, to create a pushpin there and get driving directions to that exact spot. In addition, users can switch between the aerial view and the birds-eye view of a map.

Get the full story at CNET