Microsoft today purchased online navigation company Multimap, making it the latest in a string of acquisitions to broaden and improve its search, advertising and, now, mapping businesses.
The software behemoth plans to use Multimap's location and mapping technologies to augment its existing portfolio that includes Virtual Earth, Live Search, Windows Live, MSN and its aQuantive ad platform.
London-based Multimap provides street-level maps and point-to-point directions, as well as local searches that can help users find nearby businesses.
The acquisition will give Microsoft a stronger foothold in online mapping in Europe, where it has lagged far behind Google and where Multimap is an established leader.
"Depending on which comScore stats you look at, [Multimap is] number one in the [European] commercial space and number two in the consumer space," said Justin Osmer, senior product manager of Microsoft's Live Search.
"Clearly there are synergies here," Osmer told InternetNews.com, explaining that the two companies' mapping services already operate under similar business models.
Multimap's consumer mapping offering is an ad-driven service analogous to Microsoft's Live Search. In the enterprise, both companies power the mapping services on the Web sites of businesses around the world.
The smaller firm provides the mapping services for the Web sites of more than 1,200 enterprises around the world. Its clients include Ford Motor Co., Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Virgin Megastores.
Multimap also has been using Microsoft's Virtual Earth technology for about four years, Osmer said.
Microsoft did not disclose the terms of the deal, but the London Times has reported that it is "understood" to be worth a little more than $50 million. Osmer said that he was unable to confirm the figure.
Founded in 1996, Multimap will now operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft, integrated into the Virtual Earth and Search divisions of its Online Services Group.
In a broad sense, the acquisition is the latest thrust in Microsoft's ongoing duel with Google. Google recently partnered with Dutch navigation-device maker TomTom to link Google Maps with TomTom's GPS-enabled personal navigation products.
Google intended that move to drive more traffic to its online mapping service, a strategy Microsoft now looks to follow with its Multimap acquisition.
Multimap can also send maps to users' cell phones, which aligns with Microsoft's recent moves into the mobile sector, such as Monday's announcement that it would begin placing banner ads at the top of pages viewed through its MSN Mobile platform.
Thus far, location-sensing services are not part of the picture for Microsoft. Osmer said the company is instead primarily focused on enhancing its mapping services on the PC and mobile devices.
However, he said Microsoft continues to look at the growing market for GPS-enabled personal navigation devices with strong interest.