Microsoft's Still Searching

Today, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) unveiled an upgrade to its MSN search capabilities, as well as a preview of search functions to come. It's only the first in what is certain to be a series of steps for the tech giant as it makes efforts to catch up with the search industry. In fact, today's news may be a small step, though it hints at the kind of trouble Microsoft will dish out to its rivals.

MSN's new features mirror Google's. The new MSN search has a less cluttered approach, not at all dissimilar to Google's Spartan interface. Advertising is now text-based and limited, and it has discontinued paid inclusion, a trend that's been followed by most other than Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) .

However, for all that it's exciting to unveil something in a hot new space, Microsoft is still relying on search rival Yahoo! to provide its search results until later this year. That's an ironic turn of events, considering Yahoo! fired Google earlier this year as it went with its own Overture's search results.

For all that Microsoft has set its sights on the search market, it's got a long way to go, considering that Comscore statistics say that Google is relied on for 35% of users, with Yahoo! close behind with 30%. Microsoft's Web search lags with a mere 15% of the market.

Meanwhile, other smaller, hungry rivals are also offering up some compelling services for Web surfers lately, not least of which is Ask Jeeves (Nasdaq: ASKJ  ) , which has had the scrappy audacity to start searching the desktop, another coveted search arena.

News reports cited Microsoft's investment in the upgrade at $100 million, even though it currently seems a pale comparison to the search and perks currently available through Google and Yahoo! Of course, today's MSN move is also far more cheerful news than the recent uproar over Internet Explorer and malicious hackers.

It doesn't seem like MSN's upgraded search page is all that compelling... yet. Judging by what we do see so far, Microsoft's not flattering Google, it's looking at what works and emulating it -- that means it certainly is on the attack and sees Google as the one to beat. While Google may be the one that stands the most to lose, Yahoo! will have plenty to worry about too.

What do you think of MSN's new search? Talk it over with other Fools on the Microsoft discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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