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Microsoft Hopes New Search Tool Draws Converts From Google

Microsoft may finally believe its search engine and search advertising platform have reached the point of being technically competitive with Google and Yahoo. But technology will only get Microsoft so far.

Microsoft Windows Live Search and the search site officially graduated from beta last week--which means that now the real work begins.

Removing the beta label indicates that Microsoft's search platform is "ready for prime time," says Christopher Payne, corporate VP of Windows Live Search at Microsoft. The use of a television metaphor obscures the difficulty Microsoft faces in winning searchers, not to mention advertisers, away from Google and Yahoo. Building a group of users is more complex than merely getting them to switch channels. Microsoft may finally believe that its search engine and search advertising platform are ready to compete with Google and Yahoo, but technology will only get Microsoft so far.

Self-reflection: Windows Live's mapping tool takes a bird's-eye view of Microsoft's headquarters

(click image for larger view)

Self-reflection: Windows Live's mapping tool takes a bird's-eye view of Microsoft's headquarters
Windows Live Search has some arguably superior features, such as Windows Live Search Images, which benefits from a responsive, modern interface that scales selected images for easier viewing. It also displays "related searches," links to subsets of search results broken down by conceptual categories. But other search engines such as also excel in certain areas.

Google's deal last week to make its ad and search tools available inside Intuit's QuickBooks software shows that there's a lot to be said for distribution. With its search toolbar already available through Dell computers and downloads of Sun Microsystems' Java, Google is expanding the number of routes people can use to access its services. The result is a growing Google search ecosystem.

Microsoft has its own advantages from within the desktop. It clearly hopes its Vista operating system's built-in search capabilities will bolster its shiny new online offerings. It probably will. But the speed with which Google is spreading its tendrils has to alarm Microsoft.

As Payne admits, "This is just the beginning."

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