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.
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.