As part of an initiative to use the OpenStreetMap project for its own Bing Maps, Microsoft has hired OSM founder Steve Coast.

"As a Principal Architect for Bing Mobile, Steve will help develop better mapping experiences for our customers and partners, and lead efforts to engage with OpenStreetMap and other open source and open data projects," stated a Microsoft blog announcement.

Coast founded OpenStreetMap (OSM) in 2004 as a collaborative project to assemble a web-based map of the world using free imagery. At last count, the project has gathered more than 327,000 contributors.

As part of the initiative, Microsoft is also donating a set of aerial imagery to OSM.

"This is a pretty big deal. Today, OpenStreetMap has a patchwork of imagery available that is sometimes good but sometimes not very high resolution or simply unavailable," Coast wrote in a blog entry Tuesday.

The company also promises to develop a set of tools that will make it easier for OSM contributors to submit data.

"This is the first step of what I believe will be an awesome series of announcements from Microsoft," Coast wrote.