Microsoft Takes on Google

By | November 10, 2004

Early Thursday, Microsoft will begin revving its engines squarely in Google’s direction with the Beta launch of the new MSN Search engine. The Redmond software giant has been talking with analysts, and users, about this for more than a year and it seems that the day is finally upon us.

Google is, at the end of the day, a company that lives and dies not only on its search results, but on how much better its search results are than its closest competitors. While companies like Yahoo and Microsoft are certainly formidable foes to be competing with, neither has truly ramped up a fresh search engine in the “Google Era”. Until tomorrow.

“Microsoft´s biggest challenge is gaining mind share,” said Gary Price with “Google is so damn good at building and keeping mind share that Microsoft´s technology could be wonderful and it´ll still have a challenge getting people to look at it.”

Obviously Microsoft has a leg up, since it is a news, entertainment and search portal and since it is the default search page for hundreds of millions of users. Users who, until recently, often went to Google for web searching because the relevance and well integrated ads were closer to what they were looking for than what MSN provided.

The expectations for the beta are particularly high, as Google is well known for releasing betas that are often better than Microsoft’s final product releases. Industry insiders are expecting – at a bare minimum – fast, relevant results, unobtrusive advertising and a few tricks, maybe even topical search results thrown in for fun.

Topical search, or clustered search, is one of the new areas of interest in search technology. Ultimately web searching is about trying to divine from a few simple words what people are actually looking for. Google uses a webpage-interlinking method. Clustered search displays these “standard” search results and also displays a folder-like view of topics that you might be searching for.

Nobody is really sure if Microsoft will go in this direction, but if it can nail a decent search engine and nail topical search all in one go, it could easily prove to be a much more valuable tool than Google’s search engine. Ultimately, though, it will be down to that elusive X Factor: what users really want. Google has proven incredibly astute at finding that sweet spot. We should find out tomorrow or at worst in the next few weeks, if Microsoft’s persistence and resources are enough to actually win users over.

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