Microsoft has set its beady eye on the vast revenues to be earned from internet advertising.

Ceo Steve Ballmer told a Washington conference of business leaders earlier this week: "Online advertising is of keen interest to us. We're very focused in on what it means to do a better job in display advertising, what it means to do a better job in paid listings and sponsored search advertising."

Ballmer declined to comment specifically on Microsoft's talks with Time Warner's America Online arm to expand the reach of its MSN search unit, but he said he is eager to compete with leaders Google and Yahoo.

"We have today a business that's closing on $2 billion (€1.7bn; £1.15bn). We're smaller than Google and Yahoo, but we are the number three player in the online ad market and that's a lot of money. You know, anything north of $1bn certainly registers with me."

Microsoft this week launched another sideswipe at Google with the debut of Windows Live Local, a new search engine for local businesses designed to attract more online advertising.

Arguably the poor relation of Google Earth, it will feature aerial photos of major US cities with zoom-in details such as building frontages. WLL will also provide step-by-step driving directions with satellite images.

Data sourced from and Washington Post Online; additional information by WARC staff