Battle Joined as Microsoft’s Live Search Goes Live

Microsoft opened another chapter in the Web search wars Monday, taking its Live Search platform out of the testing phase in 47 markets worldwide, including the United States.

The software giant also said that the local version of the search tool, Live Local Search, was debuted in the UK and the U.S., and Live.com has been made the search engine for MSN, Microsoft’s content, news and entertainment portal.

A New Era

Christopher Payne, corporate vice president of search at the company, called the formal launch “a significant milestone for our services business, with our core search and monetization platform ready for prime time.

“We now have the base to weave search through our services in ways that bring value to customers,” he added. “This is just the beginning. We look forward to continued investment in search to deliver services that bring new levels of control and personalization to the Web experience.”

Microsoft said it folded upgrades and improvements, based on “extensive feedback and testing,” into its search services since they went live in beta form earlier this year.

Though Microsoft’s upgrades have been well received, the search engine has its work cut out for it if it is to catch the search offerings of rivals Yahoo and Google. According to Nielsen//NetRatings, nearly 50 percent of some 5.6 billion Web searches conducted in July of this year were done on Google, 24 percent were conducted on Yahoo and just over 9 percent were logged on Live’s predecessor, MSN Search.

Alive at Live

The Live.com site is part of what will be additional rollouts of Microsoft’s Windows Live strategy in coming months, the company said, as it steps up efforts to deliver more services directly to consumers and business users over the Web.

The Live.com site is meant to be used as a personal search home page, where Web searches, news search, image searches and local searches can be conducted, and additional links to shopping sites and other favorite Web sites can be stored. The home pages can be customized with RSS feeds and other content, much the way Yahoo.com and Google pages can be tweaked to match a user’s personal interests.

Microsoft has said it would spend around US$500 million this year to boost its services strategy around Windows Live. CEO Steve Ballmer has also said he expects Microsoft to invest a couple of billion dollars in all to create a better search engine and complementary search advertising platform, the latter known as AdCenter. Ballmer is also on record as saying that Microsoft can climb to the top of the search world, but said it would likely be a several-year-long project.

Slow and Steady?

Live.com has some strong features, including the ability for users to move through various search tabs and “related” search results, similar to Ask.com’s most popular feature, said Sterling Market Intelligence analyst Greg Sterling.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s a very good user experience,” Sterling told TechNewsWorld.

It may not be enough, however, for Microsoft to wrest market share from the big search guns in the near term. That’s because, in order to get users to change, Microsoft would have to blow away Google and Yahoo.

“Microsoft is unfortunately tasked with developing an obviously better engine, and a better overall user experience, in order to get people to change what is now habitual behavior,” he explained. “The task at hand is extremely difficult given entrenchment in the search marketplace.”

Microsoft understands that even a modest-sized slice of the search advertising pie would mean millions in new revenue, and appears to be positioned to move up in the marketplace, according to Info-Tech Senior Research Analyst Carmi Levy.

The launch of Live Search, Levy added, “levels the search engine playing field and provides serious competition” for Google and Yahoo.

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