Microsoft has reached its first major milestone in Web search with the release of its algorithmic search engine, which will compete against Google and Yahoo.
The company on Tuesday completed its transition away from Yahoos search results with the introduction of its own search technology on the MSN Search site, MSN executives said.
The entry of Microsoft Corp.s MSN division into the search technology field follows almost two years of development work and repeated proclamations from the companys highest executives that it is committed to tackling Web search. MSN is the third most-popular search destination after Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.
“Because weve built the [search] platform and its our own technology, we are now poised for a rapid stream of innovation,” said Mark Kroese, MSNs general manager of information services product management.
MSN has foreshadowed the transition by releasing a series of test versions of its search engine last year. The largest test began in November with the MSN Search beta site. In early January, MSN began diverting more searchers to its beta results.
As with the beta, MSN is drawing from an index of about 5 billion Web documents for its search engine.
The features also largely mimic those introduced with the beta. They include the retrieval of facts and figures from Microsofts Encarta encyclopedia and from MSN Music, an advanced search capability for tinkering with relevancy criteria and a “Search Near Me” button for returning location-specific results.
Kroese emphasized MSN Searchs use of Encarta and MSN Music to help answer questions that users might pose in a search query. The questions could cover categories such as geographic locations, historical and popular figures, definitions, facts, calculations, conversions and solutions to equations.
“Our real focus in this search release is in helping people answer questions better and faster,” Kroese said.
The beta offered similar capabilities, but the full MSN Search release has tripled to 1.5 million the number of facts and figures being drawn from Encarta, Kroese said. MSN also has made all of the premium Encarta articles available to search users for as long as two hours at a time.
Along with releasing its search engine, MSN also revamped its home page. The redesign focused on streamlining and simplifying the page. MSN removed about one-third of the links on the page and made the MSN Search query box more prominent, Kroese said.
MSN holds a 16.5 percent share of U.S. Web searches, according to November data from comScore Networks Inc. Google leads with a 34.4 percent share, and Yahoo hold a 31.8 percent share.
While Yahoo is losing MSN as a site for its algorithmic search results, it retains MSN as a customer of its Overture Services paid-search results. MSN previously agreed to use Overtures sponsored links through June 2006.
Search analysts have said in previous interviews that MSNs search results appear largely competitive to the results displayed from Google and Yahoo. But MSN next must focus on building a larger array of vertical search services, such as multimedia search and local search, to keep pace with its competitors, the analysts said.
At launch, MSN Search includes tabs for news, image, music desktop and Encarta searches. MSN also has launched a desktop-search beta that provides search toolbars within Windows, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook and the option to initiate a Web search.
MSN had planned to introduce a Weblog search service called MSN Blogbot ahead of the algorithmic search launch. But the service has yet to appear, and MSN executives Tuesday were unable provide an update on its progress.
Kroese declined to offer details of MSNs future search plans, but he said MSN plans to take a broad approach.
“There are just so many different directions that we can and will move in,” he said.