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Life without Google Day 2: Windows Live Search a viable contender

Microsoft's search efforts--Windows Live Search--have been much maligned, but actual search experience may differ from perception.Indeed, the numbers don't lie.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Microsoft's search efforts--Windows Live Search--have been much maligned, but actual search experience may differ from perception.

Indeed, the numbers don't lie. Microsoft is a distant third behind Google and Yahoo, according to Comscore. In April, Microsoft's search had a market share tally of 10.3 percent, third behind Yahoo's 26.8 percent and Google's 49.7 percent, according to Comscore. Microsoft's search problems have been well documented. In fact, I argued that Microsoft should buy Yah

oo just to close the Google gap a little.

Given that backdrop, let's just say I was skeptical about the Windows Live Search experience (gallery at left). I've never spent a lot of time with Microsoft's search as I rarely visit MSN. Simply put, I expected Microsoft's search to be more annoying then Ms. Dewey and not nearly as cute.

But a funny thing happened after a few searches. Windows Live Search grew on me on day two of my life without Google experiment. The interface seemed smooth. The results were good. And once I got over my initial bias Windows Live Search was fine. In fact, I'd use it again.

I was so shocked by this outcome that I took an extra half day to mull it over. My conclusion: Windows Live Search partially benefited from my low expectations. Windows Live Search is the Web's whipping boy and I expected to kick it around too. Ask had the opposite problem: I tested Ask following a day of reading generally positive (even glowing) reviews. In the end, Windows Live Search under promised and over delivered. Ask was the opposite. Keep in mind that none of these search engines promised me anything -- this is a case of perception at play. I'm keeping expectations in mind as I date all of these search engines.

Going into the Ask experiment I had expected the search engine to be the best thing since sliced bread. As for Microsoft I expected moldy bread. Neither Microsoft nor Ask are going to be Google killers, but in select spots both have an edge. Microsoft and Ask are adept at integrating various results on one screen and tying together various services.

The gallery goes into my impression of the Windows Live Search experiment. I'll have to play with Microsoft's search more, but here's what I liked:

  • The interface.
  • The map results.
  • People searches worked well.
  • Feedback is front and center--it's almost as if Microsoft realizes it's in a deep hole.
  • Beta features looked interesting.

And naturally, there were things that struck me as odd.

  • The first visit to Windows Live Search asked me if I wanted to make it the default search. Can I search something first? Microsoft looked desperate. Maybe it should ask that question after three searches or something.
  • Microsoft had me-too features. Innovation doesn't jump out at you.
  • Macros were a nice way to customize Live Search, but struck me as excessively geeky. Is this a Web search or a Word doc? It's so Microsoft.

Overall, Windows Live Search is a viable competitor to Google--even if it doesn't get credit for it. Next stop for me is decidedly retro: AltaVista.

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