Microsoft has added search to its suite of online services dubbed Windows Live, introducing a number of new features and enhancements including an updated version of Live.com and a Windows Live Toolbar.
Windows Live Search complements MSN search, and ultimately both services will be powered by the same underlying technology, according to Adam Sohn, Microsoft's Director of Global Sales & Marketing PR. While the Windows Live site will focus primarily on productivity, the MSN brand will continue to evolve as a media and content destination.
I didn't get a chance to use Windows Live Search or see a demonstration of it prior to launch, but I was able to review screenshots of the service. The differences between Windows Live Search and MSN search appear to be largely cosmetic with the introduction of this beta, with the addition of some additional user interface controls and a few other features.
"These are tools that help people better visualize and connect to the information they care about," said Sohn.
For example, sliders allow you to resize search results, adding or removing information such as descriptions, or in the case of images, making thumbnails larger or smaller. There's also a new "film strip" view that shows thumbnail images in the left rail of a result page and larger single images on the rest of the page.
Another new feature prefetches hundreds of search results, allowing you to continuously scroll down a single search result page without having to click to additional pages of results. "For a lot of users, it will feel like infinite scroll," said Sohn.
Windows Live Search includes web search, as well as an all new image search, news search, RSS feeds, mail, local search, shopping and MSN spaces, Microsoft's blogging service.
One of the more intriguing new features is called "Macros," a feature that lets you customize and save searches to be run again. Macros are flexible, easy to create and share. As an example, you could create a Macro that searched for terms across a set of web sites that you specify, in effect, creating your own personalized vertical search tool.
The new Windows Live Toolbar offers several features not included with the MSN Search toolbar—notably doing away with the requirement that you must install MSN Desktop search to use the toolbar. Some of the features in the Windows Live include phishing protection and pop-up blocking, RSS detection and automatic aggregation to a user's personalized Live.com home page, and tabbed browsing.
The Windows Live Toolbar also includes technology from OnFolio, a company that Microsoft recently acquired, that lets you save, collect and share snippets or full web pages found while searching the Web. I reviewed OnFolio a couple of years ago and found it to be a useful research tool. Now that Microsoft owns the company, the software is free to use for anyone who downloads and installs the Windows Live Toolbar and enables the OnFolio addin.
Microsoft today also updated Live.com, adding the ability to add persistent search results to your Live.com homepage, subscribe to RSS feeds directly from search results, and view search results in the best contextual format. New and updated gadgets are also available, including search history, clock, notepad, Live Favorites, stock quotes, weather and MSN Infopane, to access to MSN content.
I plan to take a closer look at Windows Live Search and the various other Live.com services Microsoft is offering in a future issue of SearchDay.
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