Microsoft targets Google with developer platform

Microsoft will release new APIs today to allow developers to build applications for MSN services

Microsoft will try to gain ground on competitors Google and Yahoo by unveiling a new web development platform today on which developers can add new search, mapping and instant-messaging features to online products from the MSN division.

The set of APIs will be announced at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC), the vendor's biannual developer gathering, which is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles later today.

Analyst surveys put Microsoft a distant third behind Google and Yahoo in the web search market, and the MSN business unit has been working intently and releasing new web-based products and services to catch up to those companies. Google, in particular, has been in Microsoft's sights with its online search, mapping and other services.

A recent MSN release in this area was a beta of Virtual Earth, a new mapping tool similar to Google Maps. Both Virtual Earth and Google Maps allow users to find locations or businesses by address and other search criteria, and both use both street-map and satellite-map views. Microsoft also made a major revamp of its MSN Search engine last June in an effort to take on the search giant, but the tool has not yet caught on widely with users.

Microsoft has traditionally had a strong development community to support and increase adoption of its products, and it's likely that with the new MSN APIs, the vendor is trying to leverage that community to make gains in an area where it needs to catch up to some of its competitors, says Rikki Kirzner, partner with research firm Hurwitz & Associates.

Kirzner expects Microsoft to make other announcements at this week's conference intended to give developers more open access to previously proprietary technologies in an unprecedented way. "A lot of steps they're taking reflect serious thinking about how to solve development issues in ways that benefit customers and developers more than ways that benefit Microsoft," Kirzner says.

The MSN APIs that Microsoft will open for developers include the MSN Search Web Services API, which gives developers access to functionality for website content search results, local attractions, maps and directions, digital satellite images and other information.

Microsoft also will open an API for its MSN Virtual Earth beta that enables third-party companies to build commercial applications using the tool. Through the API, businesses have the opportunity to make money by placing advertisements on their sites in a revenue-sharing model, the details of which Microsoft plans to release at a later date.

Another API to be released this week, MSN Messenger Activity API, allows developers to create applications that can be used as extensions to MSN Messenger so users can connect in more ways with people on their contact lists. Microsoft also will introduce MapPoint Web Service 4.0, which gives developers customisation options for MapPoint that include new mapping functionality, extended geographic coverage and language support.

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