MSN Search (beta)

Although still technically in beta, the new MSN Search debuted on November 11, 2004, after having for years relied on licensed search technology from Yahoo. Earlier this year, the software giant began building its own search algorithm and now boasts more than 5 billion pages indexed and updated regularly--a database roughly comparable to Google's and Yahoo's. But it's not size that matters; it's what a search engine does with the many features associated with a good search engine, and Microsoft has yet to prove itself.

Upside: The beta version of MSN Search offers tighter integration with other Microsoft properties, drawing results from Encarta and MSN Music. MSN Search catches up with other search engines by offering neighborhood-specific searches and advanced search-querying capabilities missing from previous iterations of MSN Search, such as restricting results to a specific site domain, country, language, or even popularity.

Downside: During the beta period, not everyone accessing MSN Search will get the new search results; only a few sample queries will run on the new technology for now. Also, this beta favors Microsoft customers. In addition to standard Web search results, MSN Search will also query Microsoft Encarta and MSN Music databases. For example, in response to a query about the height of Mount Everest, Encarta will return an answer of 29,035 feet, but in order to drill down further (say you want to know about other Himalayan mountains), you must subscribe to the Encarta Premium service.

Outlook: Microsoft is very late to the search party. With Google and Yahoo already claiming significant leads in audience following and features offered, and with Amazon's A9 also on the guest list, Microsoft will need to put significant muscle into further improving its MSN Search beyond this beta version.