Microsoft Launches Next-Gen Web Search Engine

The Redmond, Wash.-based company's much anticipated updated Web search engine was officially launched Tuesday. It is now available at and will replace the current MSN search engine by Thursday, executives said.

In its market debut, Live Search offers a clean, custom user interface, a new related search function, Image search and SmartScroll, Live Local Search and a Live Q&A feature. As part of the launch, Microsoft also introduced a Web site for customizing one's personal search Web page with news, images, video, RSS feeds and blogs, Microsoft said.

Windows Live Search, which moved into beta testing in March, represents the next generation of web search from Microsoft.

It complements Microsoft's current desktop and enterprise search add-ons for business customers, including Windows Desktop Search for Windows XP, Windows Desktop Search for Enterprises, as well as the built-in search facilities of SharePoint Server.

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Microsoft and Google are increasingly courting channel partners to push their search platforms and have launched channel programs specifically for search.

Microsoft partners can pitch the Web search engine to business customers but may also steer them to the integrated Internet and desktop Instant Search feature in Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Vista, as well as to search features in Office 2007 and SharePoint 2007, executives said.

"Live Search is more aimed at the consumer audience and should be viewed as a consumer product initially, and we will transfer 400 million folks using MSN to a new Live Search experience," said Justin Osmer, Windows Live senior product manager. "When you get Vista, it's all in one."

It may take some time before Microsoft's channel partners view search as a money maker, observers note.

One Windows ISV said channel partners will continue to mull options as the number of search offerings from Microsoft expands. "Microsoft is heading in multiple directions and hedging their bets on all fronts," said Peter Sandiford, CEO of LPI Level Platforms, an Ottawa-based ISV that makes software for managed service providers. "We will all stay tuned.'

Microsoft has a long way to go to catch up to its Web search rivals, but its "long heritage" with businesses enterprises gives it an advantage as it seeks to craft a comprehensive search software platform for all customers, Osmer said.

According to Nielsen NetRatings on Web search engine rankings for July, Google led with 49.2 percent of market share compared to Yahoo's 23.8 percent, roughly half of that of Google. Microsoft's MSN trailed behind in third place with a mere 9.6 percent of share, according to NetRatings. Windows Live search beta garnered a mere 0.02 percent of search share in July, Nielsen said.

One Microsoft partner said Windows Live Search "is not a big deal" to him but said it will be another good resource for his customers to conduct searches on the Internet.

"I tell people to try several of the different major search engines when looking and researching," said Jason Harrison, president of Harrison Technology Consulting, Boonsville, N.C. "Each seems to have its strengths."

Aside from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft MSN, partners and customers have a multitude of search-engine options for crawling for information on the Web including AOL, Excite, Ask Jeeves, InfoSpace, AltaVista, HotBot and Lycos.

"Google is the king of search with most of my customers for anything outside of their PCs. Inside their personal PC or network, I think the field is still wide open for anybody to improve the user experience and therefore become the leader in this area," said Todd Swank, a vice president of marketing at Nor-tech, a custom systems builder in Burnsville, Minn. "Look at the improvements in Windows Explorer. It looks like Microsoft really wants to help users better organize their personal files and have many more resources available to them to sort and search through their data. That being said, I still think Microsoft has a big uphill battle against Google in the overall search arena."

Microsoft has trailed before and come out on top, executives note. "We're third in the marketplace and have a ways to go, but we're in it for the long haul," said Osmer. "It won't happen overnight. But it's a goal."