Windows Live Search: Trying to Catch Google

The revamped search engine from Microsoft continues to be tweaked and fine-tuned though it has yet to gain traction in the market. We offer a snapshot of the latest developments.
In an attempt to gain a more significant portion of the search market, earlier this year Microsoft launched its revamped MSN Search engine, under the Windows Live Search name. In November the company followed up with a rather large online marketing campaign. Despite its efforts, however, a search-share rankings report for November, just released by Nielsen/NetRatings, shows that Google is still ahead of the pack with a 49.5 percent share. Coming in third behind Yahoo! Search is MSN/Windows Live with 8.2 percent.

Undaunted, Microsoft continues to add features and test new applications so we decided to provide a status report to update you on this fledgling venture should it begin to emerge as an influential player in the market during the New Year. After all, anyone who dismissed the company's foray into the gaming arena with the Xbox can attest to the tenacity of Microsoft when it comes to entering new markets that already have dominant leaders.

Features of Microsoft's Live offering include queries for specific categories such as photos, shopping, academics, feeds, music, news and classifieds. There is also a "safe search" to filter out sexually explicit content. Most of the new search services can be found as links from the menu at Live.com.

The search options are quite similar in view to what Google and others offer, and are also easy to find and use from the Live.com main page. Under Live's advanced search options you can choose to search specific sites only, display results in different languages or from specific regions, and also access a set of sliding bars to sort results on your preferences between frequency of site update, popularity, and approximate to exact matches. With an account you can also personalize Live.com and display Microsoft Web mail from your Live.com start page.

Macro-Mania: Narrowing Your Search
Since its debut in the fall, Microsoft added some key features to Live search, including Search Macros that provide results that are more relevant for a given topic. Search Macros first appeared on MSN Search and have been updated and included in Live. The Macros basically enable you to create customized sets of search engine rules. On Live, as a basic Search Macro, you can enter up to 30 URLs to search for results.

The official Live Search's WebLog has a lengthy post that details how to create your own search engine with Live Search Macros. The customized Live search is stored by Live and has a unique URL that you can share with friends or post online for others to use. Google has a similar service called Google Co-op that allows you to create a customized Google search box and add specific Web sites to include in the search, as well as share the engine online through a unique URL. You can also add it to your own Web site.

Live Search Macros are also used to obtain more relevant search results, which sounds a bit familiar, as we've heard Google talk about search relevancy with attribute tags in Google Base. On Live search, if you were to search for a type of food item, you most likely will get manufacturer Web sites listed at the top of your search results. If you want only recipes that contain that food item, you could use a macro called livesearch.recipes to get more relevant results. Microsoft's Gadgets Web site offers a selection of Live.com Search macros users can freely download and install.

Books: You Beta, You Beta, You Bet
In a flurry of beta releases similar to services already offered by Google, Microsoft added a Live Book Search, their competitive answer to Google Book Search. In its current beta version, this new search makes tens of thousands of out-of-copyright books available from Microsoft's library scanning initiative that includes books from the University of California, the University of Toronto and the British Library. In comparison with Google's Book Search, Live Search Books offers fewer features for users. There is no advanced search options to query by title, author or ISBN number, and also very little options for viewing and page display.

Despite is slew of offerings and features, Windows Live Search is having a small impact on the search market, with MSN/Live Search actually losing roughly 12 percent of the search market, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, over the last year. Industry watchers attribute this two factors: users accustomed to their favorite search engines prefer to stick with it and people just haven't heard about Live Search yet. Microsoft may be relying too heavily on their MSN users and those installing the latest version of Internet Explorer to discover the search engine on their own.

Adding fuel to the "search me first" fire, Google recently released a customized version of Internet Explorer 7 that puts Google, not Windows Live Search, as the default search engine. The customized Google version also adds the Google Toolbar and a Google homepage users can personalize.

In terms of search engine share, Microsoft may be able to catch up to Google a bit at the end of this month when the official consumer versions of  Microsoft's Vista operating system become available. Microsoft Vista includes Internet Explorer; and of course, in many countries that version included with Vista will default to Microsoft's Live.com Web page as the homepage, so it's prudent to keep an eye out for further developments that are sure to come this year.

Vangie Beal is a frequent contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com. She is also the managing editor of Webopedia.

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