When MSN rereleased their search beta last November, they joined several other general purpose web engines offering direct answers on search results pages. At that point, these types of results seemed to appear for very few queries but with today's official launch, I'm noticing many more direct answers.
Direct answers and search shortcuts continue to gain momentum as way that can an search engine can save the searcher effort while at the same time delivering them an answer or a direct link from a trusted sources. In many ways, this is a prelude to search engines becoming answer engines for certain types of "ready reference" queries.
Shortcuts and direct answers were first introduced by AltaVista in 2002. Since that time, Ask Jeeves (they regularly add Smart Search options), Yahoo, Google, and most recently AOL have joined in. We have an overview and links to what each of these services offer in this blog post.
MSN offers direct answers for several types of queries on search results pages. Material comes from their Encarta encyclopedia. Here are a few examples: