MSN Search review: MSN Search

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The Good Taps into other MSN services, such as Music and Movies; comprehensive reference searches via Encarta; a highlight viewer in downloadable toolbar helps you find search terms in lengthy Web pages; desktop search tool.

The Bad Weak local search; lacks video or people searches.

The Bottom Line MSN Search may appeal to fans of MSN's various services, but its lackluster local and multimedia searches disappoint.

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6.0 Overall

Review Sections

Fans of Microsoft's MSN portal or music lovers who buy their tunes from MSN Music will appreciate the slimmed-down, redesigned, and relaunched MSN Search. This search engine from the Redmond-based behemoth works closely with other MSN services, especially MSN Movies, MSN Music, and Microsoft Encarta, and boasts a downloadable toolbar and a new desktop search utility. Unfortunately, MSN Search stumbles with its comparatively weak local search and lack of video or non-MSN Music audio searches.

With its soothing, sky-blue search box, MSN Search takes a more New Age approach with its interface than its competitors.

The minimalist MSN search box includes links for Web, News, Images, Desktop, and Encarta searches; click the pull-down menu next to the Search button, and you'll find additional searches for stock quotes, movies, shopping, and music. Just to the right of the Search form is a Near Me button, which you can click to find results near your city (but not your specific street address).

Although our MSN Search for Andorra returned about 14 million pages, that's still 9 million pages less than Yahoo and 6 million pages less than Google.

MSN's Web search results did a good job of separating sponsored results from our actual search hits, confining the paid listings to shaded boxes and columns with smaller fonts; however, the number of results returned was still less than for similar queries performed on Google or Yahoo. MSN does let you see cached pages (great for checking older content on a frequently updated Web page) as well as links to related sites. Some of our MSN searches included special sections up on top with news and related links, although nothing as elaborate as AOL Search's Spotlight or Ask Jeeves's Smart Search boxes. Images searches returned thumbnails with dimensions and files sizes, and MSN allows you to sort the images by size or by whether they're in color or black and white. Movie queries tap into MSN Movies (which includes movie posters, descriptions, links to trailers, and local showtimes), while Encarta searches use MSN's paid Encarta encyclopedia service. By the same token, shopping searches send you to MSN's shopping site, while music searches let you browse MSN's library of pay-per-download music. Missing from MSN Search are video and people searches, as well as detailed local searches with maps and driving directions (which, strangely enough, you can find on the main MSN portal, but not through MSN Search).

MSN offers a robust downloadable toolbar that features a pop-up blocker and a nifty highlight viewer that lets you quickly scan long Web pages by highlighting your search terms. The toolbar also includes an IE-only desktop search tool that will index all the files and e-mail on your PC. However, neither the toolbar nor the MSN Search portal will save or track your search history. The MSN help section provides cursory descriptions--with a few search examples--of different types of predefined search options available on the site.

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