Microsoft has bought Vexcel, a company that makes products for creating maps from aerial and satellite photographs, in an effort to boost its local search and online-mapping services.

Microsoft yesterday announced its acquisition of Vexcel without disclosing the deal's financial details. Microsoft expects that Vexcel's products and technologies will strengthen its Windows Live Local service for finding local business listings and displaying online maps.

Windows Live Local is Microsoft's offering in the highly competitive market for local search and online mapping.

Microsoft and all other major search engine operators, including Google, Yahoo, AOL and, have local search services integrated with online maps and are intensely interested in the increasing ad spending attracted by these websites.

These local search and mapping sites are a sort of business phone directory on steroids. Users typically can search for businesses in a specific area, obtain driving directions, display them on a map, often with aerial or satellite images, and sometimes even read customer annotations and reviews.

Microsoft's expectations for Windows Live Local are high, as the Redmond, Washington, software giant hopes to turn it into a site that provides what it has described as an "immersive" experience for consumers and commercial users with increasingly rich map imagery, such as 3D renderings, bird's-eye views and street-side photos.