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Microsoft's Kumo sneaks out in public

At least one user says he is getting search results that bear strong resemblance to the next-generation engine Microsoft has been testing internally.

This search result for Zune, seen on Live Search by enthusiast Ryan Rea, bears a significant resemblance to the Kumo prototype that Microsoft has been testing internally. (Click for larger version) Ryan Rea (aka volvoshine)

Microsoft has begun to broaden the testing of its next-generation search technology.

For the past two months, Microsoft has been running an internal test of the technology, which is code-named Kumo. However, some of the design changes that are part of that update are now in limited public testing.

Enthusiast Ryan Rea said on Friday that he got a Live Search result that looked a lot more like screenshots of Kumo than it does to Microsoft's standard search results (see screenshot above). Of particular note is the left-hand navigation pane, a key feature of Kumo.

Rea said he started getting the new results using Live Search in Internet Explorer 8 using the release candidate build of Windows 7.

Using the same set-up, I still get the standard result, shown in the screenshot below. Microsoft told CNET News that Rea's result page is part of the company's testing efforts.

"We are continuously looking for ways to improve Live Search for both advertisers and consumers," the software maker said in a statement. "As part of that effort, we regularly conduct public tests of certain feature sets. This is an example of one such test with a very limited audience."

Microsoft is preparing for a launch of the Kumo technology as well as a rebranding of its search engine, though sources have said that name is not final and several other names have also been floating about.

Kumo, however, is expected to include more than just changes to the look of Microsoft's search engine. Among the enhancements is expected to be the inclusion of semantic search technology Microsoft got as part of last year's purchase of Powerset.

The software has a considerable game of catch-up to play as it has continued to trail Yahoo and Google despite years of investment. According to March numbers from Nielsen Online, Microsoft had 10.3 percent of the U.S. search market, as compared to 15.8 percent for Yahoo and 64.2 percent for Google.

The standard result for the query "Zune" using Live Search. (Click for larger version) Ina Fried/CNET