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Microsoft turns over questions to Ask Jeeves

Microsoft says it will use Ask Jeeves's plain English question-and-answer service on the software giant's customer support Web site.

    Microsoft today said it would use Ask Jeeves's plain English question-and-answer service on the software giant's customer support Web site.

    The natural-language service, which allows Web users to type in questions in regular English rather than using traditional database query language, will provide product support information exclusively for the Microsoft Windows 98 operating system.

    Microsoft tested the Ask Jeeves service over the summer. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Ask Jeeves' stock soared on news of the deal, climbing 17.88 to close at 68.31.

    Emeryville, California-based Ask Jeeves went public earlier this summer, rising more than fivefold. The company's corporate question answering service customers include Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Datek Online, and E*Trade, among others.

    "This is all about customers getting the answers they need to be successful," said Denise Rundle, director of Microsoft's online support, in a statement. "The pilot program proved to us that Ask Jeeves's service is a great mechanism for understanding exactly what our customers need. Listening and acting on customer feedback is what makes it possible for Microsoft to answer more than 250,000 questions each day on its Online Support sites."

    Rundle said the service allows customers to ask questions as if they were speaking, such as "How do I install and remove programs in Windows 98?" or "How do I prevent a password prompt when I start Windows 98?"

    "Less experienced customers appreciate the simple approach to getting help," said Rundle.

    Ask Jeeves will also gather consumer data by analyzing frequently asked questions, the company said. This feature, Ask Jeeves said, will allow Microsoft to better understand and serve its online customers while improving the site in direct response to users' needs.

    Ask Jeeves said that its relationship with Microsoft helps to validate its question answering service.