Microsoft joins its major online competitors with a download to add portal services such as search and e-mail directly to the Web browser.
MSN has joined the toolbar parade, launching on Monday a beta version of a download that gives users one-click access to MSNs search, e-mail, news and instant messaging services.
Microsoft Corp.s Internet division joins the ranks of other top portals and search providers such as Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc. with similar toolbars either in general or beta releases.
To read what eWEEK Labs had to say about Googles latest toolbar beta, click here.
Once downloaded, the MSN Toolbar Beta appears in a users Web browser and offers a series of customizable buttons that link to MSN services. Users also can enter a search query for MSN Search directly in the toolbar, no matter the Web page they are browsing.
Beyond access to MSNs services, the toolbar provides a pop-up ad blocker that user can turn on or off and customize in order to specify Web sites from which pop-up ads will be accepted.
Another feature called Highlight Viewer works in conjunction with a search query to highlight the search terms throughout the resulting Web pages. It also offers a of preview search results in a separate pane on the toolbar.
MSN plans to update the toolbar as new features and versions are released. A final release version is expected in about a month, said MSN product manager Karen Redetzki.
The toolbar complements MSNs more aggressive push into the search field overall. Redetzki said that MSN is investing significantly in search engine technology, both with the new toolbar and its own search algorithms.
"MSN Search is excited for its future and we believe significant opportunities exist to improve the overall customer experience," Redetzki said.
In a speech over the weekend at the World Economic Forum, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said that Microsoft is readying its next-generation Web search engine for release as early as next year.
The MSN Toolbar Beta requires Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP and Internet Explorer version 5.01 or later.
As an online reporter for eWEEK.com, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for eWEEK.com. Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.