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Microsoft Unveils Beta MSN Search Site

Microsoft on Thursday officially unveiled the new beta version of its MSN Search site, the company's hotly anticipated attempt to take on Google for Web searching.

The beta release comes after about two years worth of effort to build the underlying search engine. The complete version is planned for launch sometime next year.

The size of the search engine's index is increased to about 5 billion Web documents, Microsoft says, and much of the index is updated weekly or daily. The search engine is also integrated with the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia to provide relevant answers to direct questions and is tied to the MSN Music service to provide links to music samples when artist, song or album searches are entered.

Microsoft updated the interface in several ways. The search page is clean and simple, The interface now includes tabbed searches, such as Web, news and images. A new "Near Me" button allows users to search only sites in their geographical area.

Microsoft also added a Search Builder feature that allows users to emphasize or de-emphasize certain search criteria, such as specific sites or domains, countries, regions or languages. The builder also features dials, which allow users to prioritize approximate versus exact matches, very popular versus less popular sites and recently updated versus static pages.

The site appeared to be getting more traffic than it was ready for on Thursday. Several test searches returned a message that the engine was temporarily unavailable. Also the Encarta integration feature appears to be incompletely implemented at this point. Microsoft's news release on Thursday provided two examples of the types of direct questions that Encarta would provide answers for. Only one of them, "What is the capital of Turkey?" returned an answer. The other question, "What is the second-longest coastline in the world?" failed to bring up an answer from Encarta.

The site is available at http://beta.search.msn.com.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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