|Your account||Today's news index||Weather||Traffic||Movies||Restaurants||Today's events|
Thursday, November 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:42 A.M.
Microsoft's new search engine not ready yet
By Kim Peterson
Microsoft yesterday added some features to a search engine it is testing online, but said that the final version of the technology won't be available until sometime next year.
For two years, the company's MSN division has been building a search engine to compete with market leaders Google and Yahoo! MSN had been expected to launch that service by the end of the year and yesterday the technology world was buzzing with rumors that Microsoft would finally stake its territory in the growing search market.
That wasn't the case. MSN made some improvements to the engine it is building, called it a beta release and made it available on a Web site at beta.search.msn.com. Up to now it has made two "tech previews" of the engine available online. The new engine searches through an index of 5 billion Web documents, and is available in 11 languages.
MSN still uses technology from Yahoo! to run its main search site, at search.msn.com, and will continue to do so until it officially releases its own search engine.
And so everyone waiting for Microsoft to enter the search market will have to wait a little longer.
"They're not really doing battle in the search wars with their own weaponry until they put it out on MSN Search," said Danny Sullivan, the editor of the search-focused Web site Search Engine Watch. "They do have their own technology, they just haven't deployed it. Until this is deployed in MSN Search, it effectively is not in front of a public that is going to really care."
Even using Yahoo!'s technology, MSN ranks third in the online search market. In August, Google was the preferred choice of Internet searchers, grabbing 36.1 percent of total searches, according to researchers from comScore Networks. Yahoo! sites had 30.6 percent of searches and MSN had 14.4 percent.
The beta release available today gives an idea of MSN's plans for its search engine, and they include using the engine to promote other Microsoft products. One feature is designed to answer questions using information from Microsoft's Encarta Encyclopedia.
If a user typed the query "What is the population of Seattle?" for example, the answer will be included in the search results along with links to related Encarta articles, some of which may require a paid subscription to read.
Additionally, MSN is including direct links to songs and other content from its MSN Music store in the results for music-related queries. A user could click the link to hear a sample of a song, for example, and click again to purchase it.
The service is not an online version of the phone book, said Microsoft spokesman Justin Osmer. It will likely not give the art museum's phone number, address or a map to the location facts that are more difficult to compile. Microsoft said yesterday it has been building its search engine for the past two years a long time in a technology world that moves at light speed. Analysts and search-engine experts said yesterday building an engine from scratch is a huge undertaking by anyone, even Microsoft.
"It's not easy to get out a new search engine," said Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter Research. It could take a year just to build an index of Web sites to search from, he added.
Microsoft's delay in entering the market is not much of a setback, Wilcox said. Google may have an enormous share of the business, but Microsoft controls Windows, the world's largest software distribution platform, he said.
"If Microsoft wants to roll out something new, it's easy," he said. "You just put it in Windows and start selling it. That strategy has worked time and time again."
A good search engine is a massive product to build and maintain, said Jim Lanzone, senior vice president of search products at search company Ask Jeeves. The search market will likely not change much when MSN finally launches its product, he added.
"For their users, they replace the current Yahoo! search engine with the Microsoft search engine," he said. "Assuming the one they build is good, it's probably not going to be one their users perceive as being dramatically different in any way."
MSN is also working on a desktop search tool that can search some files stored in a computer, and it has promised a test version of that software by the end of the year. It did not give any information on the status of that software yesterday. Google debuted a test version of its desktop search capability last month.
Google also said yesterday it had nearly doubled the number of Web pages culled by its search engine to 8 billion from 4.2 billion, immediately dashing Microsoft's claim yesterday that its index of 5 billion Web documents was the largest of any Web index in existence.
Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top