Microsoft Corp.s MSN division on Thursday will launch a public beta of its Web search technology, according to sources familiar with the plans.
The beta will expand on MSNs technology preview of its new search engine that has been available through the MSN Sandbox site. MSN launched a second preview last month with a Web index of about 5 billion documents after conducting a smaller two-month test earlier in the summer.
Sources said that the beta will add “more bells and whistles” to MSNs previous previews and will be more widely available. The launch this week will not involve MSNs desktop search, which is slated for release in December, the sources said.
MSN plans to run its search-engine beta site concurrently with its existing MSN Search site until the technology is ready for a full launch, sources said. MSN Search draws its results from Yahoo Inc.s Web index and search engine technology.
MSN has not set an exact date for the switching over to its search technology, but MSN officials since the summer have been saying it will occur in the next 12 months.
Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., began working on its Web-search technology in June of 2003, when its MSNBot crawler started appearing in Web-site visitor logs. The company has invested more than $100 million on search, and company leaders including Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer have promised to aggressively compete in the Web-search market.
MSNs full entry in Web search is expected to heighten competition among the three largest Internet services—Google, Yahoo and MSN—each of which will run separate crawlers and indexes of billions of Web pages. Yahoo earlier this year dropped Google search results in favor of its own technology.