Windows Live Search goes live

Online search portal features a user interface designed to fetch more accurate Web search results.

Windows Live Search has gone live after less than a year in public beta testing.

Microsoft said its new online search portal will feature an improved user interface designed to fetch more accurate Web search results than the beta version had provided.

In addition, Live Search will now power search on, although some people may not notice the difference at first. Live Local Search was also released from beta, but only in the U.S. and U.K. so far. The changes are all part of Microsoft's new set of Internet services and software.

Although the search engine for a relatively short time, the company believed enough progress had been made to release it globally after examining user feedback, meeting with consumers and studying search behavior, said Derrick Connell, a Microsoft search business general manager. Connell called the release a "watershed moment" for Microsoft.

Live Search lets people hunt for news, images, video, blogs and RSS feeds through one search portal. New features are intended to help simplify Internet searches. Such features include the scoping bar on the top of the page that keeps the information from a previous search so the next search is done in the context of the first.

Microsoft said its new Web search will return with more quick and precise results than the beta version. Prior to the latest version of Live Search, the average search from query to final results--including time spent performing searches to refine the results--took 11 minutes, Connell said. And half the time, those searches ended fruitlessly. That happened when people clicked on a link, refined the query, and not finding what they needed, gave up, he said. "For a large population of searchers, they want to run a query and get the answer they need" right away, he said.

Microsoft has taken a page from the Google playbook by making the Windows Live home page somewhat Spartan, featuring just the logo, search field, and a few links. On the results page, however, a new "related searches" feature sometimes appears on the right side of the screen, above the sponsored ads. This feature employs an algorithm that uses the previous queries and results of others who performed the same search.

Another feature, which is similar to a Google function, runs a search on the contents of a given destination site, eliminating the need to use the site's own search function, which is almost never as powerful as a major search engine.

Microsoft also improved the image search process. Connell said the company's research showed more than half of people would click "next" when perusing search results, meaning the image they were looking for did not appear in the first batch of results. He said Microsoft solved that problem by putting all image query results on a single page with a slider bar that controls the size of thumbnails.

Local searches account for 15 percent to 20 percent of online queries, said Connell. Using the Virtual Earth platform, the new local search function lets people see cities from a 45-degree "bird's-eye view" of a particular place on a map. Instead of an overhead view that one gets with an aerial map, it gives an angled perspective on locations like downtown Seattle or the Statue of Liberty in New York. The mapping feature currently covers 30 percent of the U.S. and 100 cities worldwide.

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