Microsoft's internet search engine, in the works for about two years, is ready for its big-time debut.
The company is announcing today that the search engine it built from scratch is to take centre stage at the company's web portal, MSN.com, which has previously relied on search technology from rival Yahoo.
"The whole goal with our new search service is to deliver answers faster," said Mark Kroese, MSN's general manager of information services product management. "In a world where the search engine user experience is getting lots of links but no answers, we're really focused on giving users quick answers to their questions."
Since November, Microsoft's search engine had been in a public test – or beta – mode in a special section of the MSN.com portal, while the main search section continued to be powered by the Yahoo technology.
The new MSN Search powered by the Microsoft search engine will let users search not only websites but also content from Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia and MSN Music, Kroese said.
MSN Search also features a variety of tools to let users adjust searches, such as narrowing results by language or domain. The search engine also has the ability to deliver search results from a specific geographical area, a feature called "search near me".
Also on Tuesday, Microsoft will introduce a redesigned home page for MSN.com with a cleaner and simpler layout in which the search engine box is featured more prominently.
The new MSN Search is available on 25 localised versions of MSN.com, including the ones for the US, the UK, Spain, Sweden, India and Germany, and in 10 languages. MSN Search features, such as access to Encarta, vary among MSN.com versions.
With this rollout, Microsoft takes another step in its fight against Google and Yahoo. In December 2004, Google drew 34.7 percent of US search engine users, while Yahoo came in second with 31.9 percent. Microsoft's MSN placed third with 16.3 percent, followed by Time Warner, which includes AOL, with 9.4 percent, according to market research company comScore Networks.
In the second quarter, total US internet ad spending was about $2.37bn, of which search-related ads were the largest category with $947m, according to the report.
Microsoft has a deal with Yahoo's Overture ad network to provide the text ads that run with MSN Search results. Microsoft has no plans currently to build its own ad network, Kroese said.
What users can expect to see from Microsoft are frequent enhancements to MSN Search, now that the company has the search engine foundation in place, he said.
Likely areas of improvement would be increasing the size of the search engine's index, which in November stood at about 5bn documents, broadening the types of searchable documents to include, for example, video content and maps, enhancing result relevance, enabling wireless access to the search engine and expanding the ability to personalise searches, he said.
Joris Evers in San Francisco contributed to this story.