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Bill Gates kept the heat on Google yesterday by lifting the skirts on MSN’s new local search and mapping service.

Gates demoed “MSN Virtual Earth” - a new local search service which will combine local search with maps and satellite pictures.

Speaking at a conference in Carlsbad, California, Gates said Google would struggle as competition over search moved away from its interenet sweet spot to new technologies and new platforms.

According to the NewYork Times, Gates said: “Google is still perfect, the bubble is floating and they can do everything. You should buy their stock at any price.”

MSN’s “Virtual Earth” sounds spookily like Google Earth also due in the next few weeks. It will let users mix satellite images, maps and local search information. The company is combining its Terra Server with technology from MapPoint. Terra Server hosts satellite images of the US. The service should be available in the US during the summer but without the aerial photos - they will be added later in the year. No word yet on wider availability.

Microsoft says the images are taken at 45 degrees giving users more information than “straight-down” views. It has an exclusive deal for images from Pictometry International.

Local searching is becoming a technology Holy Grail. Companies are keen to exploit the many smaller businesses which trade locally and don’t bother with a website. It is also vital for mobile companies looking for new sources of revenue from bandwidth-equipped phones. Competition is likely to be fierce with all major search engines chasing the local market. ®

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