Microsoft has released an API that allows websites to send location information to GPS navigation devices as part of an expansion of its MSN Direct services.

The API (application programming interface) for the MSN Direct Send to GPS (Global Positioning System) feature of navigation devices allows websites to send local information to GPS units either wirelessly or through a USB connection, the company said.

The API, which Microsoft unveiled at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January, is free for developers. Instructions for how they can use it to MSN Direct-enable websites are available online.

MSN Direct is an FM-based digital service that allows portable devices - including GPS devices, wristwatches and even household appliances - to receive information from certain MSN services. The service also allows users to receive notifications on devices about new messages on Windows Live Messenger.

MSN Direct is part of a larger plan by Microsoft to add value to its MSN and Windows Live online services to spur online advertising and compete with Google in that market.

Specifically, the newly released API allows the sites to send addresses, business listings or other locations directly from the sites to a GPS unit. This eliminates the need for a user to re-enter or search for the same information on a device once they have retrieved a website, according to Microsoft.

For the information to be transferred, devices must be compatible with MSN Direct Send; GPS manufacturers Garmin and Alpine Electronics currently ship products with this feature. Devices also must be associated with a Windows Live ID. A list of compatible devices is available online.