Today, Microsoft launched a public beta of their search offering, MSN Search. New features include integration with other Microsoft sites (e.g. Encarta, MSN Music), basic questions search (e.g. What is the capital of Turkey? -> result from Encarta), and a useful search builder tool to help build advance queries fully utilising all the features on offer. The search currently has an index of 5bn pages. Whilst Neowin was in Paris last week, Microsoft told us that one of the key features would be keeping the index fresh, and made a provisional pledge to update it every 7 - 10 days (max); the problems of letting an index go stale were highlighted by Google earlier in the week.
Microsoft has clearly stated that their goal with MSN Search is "to help customers find what they want faster". They want to give people better results, clearer results (i.e. cut out the chaff), and give a more personalized set of results. Apparently, it takes the average user 11 minutes to find what they wanted on a search engine. Yet the other goal is the whole issue of fighting back against Google's 60% market share (MS have 9.6% of the search market). Microsoft has admitted they neglected search technology (they previously licensed search from Inktomi), and over the last few years have invested a lot of money into improving their offering.
But, today isn't just about MSN Search. Not to be out done, Google announced they had doubled the size of their index to 8bn pages. Often said, it's not the size that counts, but how you use it. If Google can continue to return useful results to users, many will see no reason to switch. Microsoft fight an uphill battle in that they have to first persuade users to use their search, and secondly return better results than the competition. However, part of this is quite simple; integration into MSN.com (default homepage for many IE users) and a variety of other sites means that a lot of users will be using MSN search without even knowing they switched. MSN Search will also be integrated with future desktop search solutions, which Microsoft will be releasing in the months to come.