Microsoft launches a web search engine

In its latest attempt to catch up with rivals Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. is launching a revamped Internet search engine that it says will help computer users find information faster, view it more easily and organize it better.

Launched in test form on Wednesday, Windows Live Search is Microsoft’s latest move in a major shift in strategy that is leading the world’s largest software company to focus more on Internet-based software and services.

The goal of this change, which includes initiatives called Windows Live and Office Live, is to create online products to complement its main cash cows: the Windows operating system and Office professional software.

Windows Live Search will power queries on live.com, Microsoft’s Windows Live website, starting Wednesday. Once the technology is fully tested, Windows Live Search will replace the existing search engine that powers MSN.com. MSN spokesman Adam Sohn said the company has not determined how long it will run Windows Live Search as a test.

A key goal of the new search engine will be to give people more control over how they search for information and how they use it once they get it, said Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of services at information at MSN, the division that works on
Windows Live.

“A lot of people think, ‘Hey,…hasn’t Google become the popular search engine? And aren’t they just doing a great job? And there’s no room for improvement ‘” Mehdi said. Once people get to grips with Windows Live Search, Mehdi said, “They’re going to be like, ‘Damn, I had no idea search could be this much better!'”

The new search engine includes features such as support for tabbed web browsing, which allows users to keep multiple search panes open in a single window. Microsoft said other features would include:

  • A search scroll bar that offers previews of data in various forms, perhaps just the Internet address of a website, or perhaps a text snippet. As the slider is adjusted, more or less information appears.
  • A “smart scroll” feature that displays all search results at once rather than on separate pages.
  • Different ways to display images, for example, as small “thumbnail” or full size images, without leaving the search page.
  • An ability for users to save their search parameters as macros that can be run to perform the same search in the future. Microsoft said users will also be able to publish their search macros so people with similar interests can use them.

    Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said he wasn’t ready to make any predictions.

    “Conceptually, it sounds good. The execution will tell all,” said Wilcox, who received a quick briefing on the new search engine.

    Microsoft did not give analysts or reporters access to the search engine ahead of its scheduled launch on Wednesday.

    Wilcox said Microsoft’s best chance of gaining traction over competitors is to make search results more relevant.

    “There’s something very alien about the whole keyword approach as a way to find things,” Wilcox said. “So if Microsoft can move away from that and let people ask questions, use more natural language…it could really improve the usability of search. That’s the kind of thing that could put pressure on Google.”

    Google ended January with a 48.2% share of the US search market and Yahoo ranked second with a 22.2% share, according to Nielsen/NetRatings Inc. MSN ranked third with 11% of the market, down slightly from the previous year.

    In another release slated for Wednesday, Microsoft said it was rolling out a new Windows Live toolbar that incorporates technology from Onfolio Inc., an Internet research and information management company it has recently acquired.

    Among other things, the toolbar includes a feature that will detect RSS (or Really Simple Syndication) data feeds, which a growing number of people are using to streamline the news and other information they retrieve from the Internet.

    By Elizabeth M. Gillespie

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