Thursday, March 09, 2006

MSN Search to be replaced by Windows Live Search

Whether we are talking about a genuinely new search engine technology or a rebranding is hard to say at the moment, but Microsoft has announced that its present MSN Search is to be replaced by Windows Live Search.

Microsoft has for some time been trying to push the Windows-brand in its Internet strategy. It seems to think that “Windows” has a better ring to it than “MSN”. They may be right, although using the name of an operating system for Web services may be confusing for some users.

The company is now beta testing a new search site called Windows Live Search. The new search site is to replace the existing MSN Search site.

At the moment the search engine results seem pretty similar to us, but the way of presenting results is new, as Windows Live Search makes use of various sliders and frames to present listings. These techniques are apparently based on Microsoft standards — or at least some complex javascripts — as the new site does not work in our version of Firefox.

One slider can be used to reduce or increase the amount of information following each search engine result. If you set it at maximum, you get a “search within this site” link below each result. Click on that link, and you get another search form within the same web page.

Another slider can be used to navigate up and down in search results, thus reducing the number of search result pages to one.

But the fact that Microsoft presents all search results on one page does increase the download time, even if Microsoft has reduced the total number of results to 250. Yes, that’s true, you cannot go beyond 250 results! Microsoft has — probably correctly — concluded that you do not want more than 250 results anyway. If 250 listings do not do the trick, you’d better rephrase the query.

There is also a function that lets Windows Live users save their search parameters as macros that can be run to perform the same search in the future.

It is good to see that Microsoft now is doing some genuine innovation, instead of just copying others. Whether users will be understand and make use of this new interface remains to be seen, but we think so.

However, it takes more than this to beat Google. Our advice to Microsoft is to focus on the quality and relevance of search results. If the new Windows Live Search delivers better results than Google, it may actually win the search engine race.

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