Microsoft has officially switched on its MSN Search technology on the MSN web portal. The portal previously used technology licensed from Yahoo.
Although the company is launching a worldwide marketing campaign to point out the new search engine to consumers, the move is not yet a full-frontal assault against the established leaders Google and Yahoo, MSN product manager Justin Osmer told vnunet.com.
"This launch gets us in the game," he said. "There will be some queries that we will do a better job at answering, and there will other queries that [Google and Yahoo] will do a better job at answering."
Today's launch gives MSN the foundation to start building at its search future, according to Osmer, who expects to introduce new features later this year that will set MSN apart from the competition by offering more personalised and relevant search results.
The engine that was formally unveiled this morning is similar to a beta or test version that has been available on the web since November.
The main difference is that the service launched today gives users access to premium content from the Microsoft Encarta online encyclopaedia for up to two hours a day. This information was previously accessible only to paying customers.
MSN sites in 25 countries have started using the new search algorithm. A few countries, including Japan, still rely on Yahoo's engine because of translation issues. But Osmer expects those countries to switch within the next six months.
Because the new service does not deliver appreciably better search results than Google or Yahoo, it will initially attract users of existing MSN services such as Hotmail, according to Charlene Li, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.
"It's a battle for social loyalty," Li told vnunet.com. "Hotmail users are already biased to use MSN products."
Li predicted that the launch is the start of a new battle for dominance in the search industry, in which players will try beating each other at delivering the most relevant results.
"No-one is much better than anyone else anymore. Google has some real competitors now," she said.
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