Friday, March 10, 2006

Microsoft's Google Killer? First Glance at Search Engine Beta

I tried out Microsoft's new search engine "Windows Live Search," aka www.live.com and it's a good thing they've labelled it a beta.

Touted by some as Microsoft's "Google killer," the new search engine was up and down for quite some time last night. I think I caught the developers uploading the UI because there were some really ugly versions before things started to settle down...

While the site was working, before it got overwhelmed with traffic (probably because the Drudge Report and other sites were flogging it) I did get a glimpse of the interface and had a chance to test some of the site out.

First impression: Big improvement over MSN Search. Google killer? No, not yet. But not bad either.

Beta Check

The "live.com" default interface is extremely simple (hmmm, wonder who thought of that idea?). It's after you've begun your search that the fun begins.

When a search returns results, the page mutates and, besides the the classic search text entry box (and of course, your results), a series of tabs appear that allow for more custom searching and feed harvesting.

Nothing exotic, these tabs include "web", "news", "images", "local", and "feeds."

The "web" results are very Google-like, and display returns in the now classic style: head, deck and URL. You can customise how much of this information you want with a handy little control on the right side of the interface. You can, for example, use the control (in the pop up image here you'll see it on the right side) Routine search returns were not stunning better (or worse) than Google. In fact, in my very early tests, the results from both sites were pretty close.

The strongest part of the tool, at least in my early look, is image search. I've never been totally thrilled with Google's image search tool, which requires more work then I like before I can get to the actual picture.

There are just about as many steps involved in getting to the picture in the "Windows Live" image search tool, but it feels friendlier. First, you get a bunch of thumbnails (like Google) but I liked the jazzy way the thumbnails "pop" open and give you a bit more info when you mouse over them in Windows Live Search. Click an image and the UI changes again to include the page where it originally appeared.

Your original search results thumbnails are still visible, but re-located to the left side of the page. You can grab the original picture, sans web page, with the "show image" link at the top of the frame.

I found the "local" tab somewhat amusing when I typed in the word "Audio". Not knowing what to expect, I got a U.S. map and business address matches that were heavily concentrated in South Dakota. I know not why. Since I won't be shopping in Sioux Falls this week, I added an address to the search term and things improved a bit.

The feeds tab worked well. After signing in to my Microsoft Passport account, I was easily able to add a few new feeds to "My Stuff". It was a little hard figuring out how to get back to "My Stuff" after grabbing the feed (clicking the "add to live.com" with the green cross will do it, but it's not exactly obvious), but I did like the clean display in the My Stuff area.

The site went down last night, so I couldn't try out more of its features, but it shows some promise...but then almost anything is going to be an improvement over MSN search...

We'll have a lot more on this site in the coming days, but do tell us your first impressions...Here's a pretty good backgrounder on the beta.

UPDATE: They've crudded up the live.com with promo material, news crawls, and announcements. Bleh.