The service, which uses the corporate question and answering model from Ask Jeeves, lets customers ask questions in plain English and then directs them to the best answers located within Microsoft Online Support, the company said in a statement.
Ask Maxwell, which was first tested as a pilot program with Ask Jeeves in May, provides answers to questions about the Windows 98 operating system as well as to the majority of Microsoft consumer products, including games, hardware, reference products and children's products, the company said.
Additional products, such as Outlook Express, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer browser software and the FrontPage Web site creation and management tool, will be added to the service over the next few months.
Rather than using a typical search box, Microsoft said Ask Maxwell compares customers' questions to a database of known questions. It returns a list of questions that most closely resemble the original inquiry sent by the customer.
Customers click on the best match, and Ask Maxwell guides them to their answer. The service helps customers filter through Microsoft's database of more than 200,000 articles.
In addition to its question and answering role, Ask Maxwell will be able to analyze frequently asked questions so that Microsoft can better understand its online customers' needs as well as improve the Web site's customer support and help desk services, the company said.
Microsoft announced its partnership with Emeryville, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves in October. Ask Jeeves went public this summer, rising more than fivefold. The company's corporate question answering service customers include Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Datek Online and E*Trade.