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Google continues to get raves for its stark design and simple search results, but frankly I think the search engine is boring. So I have to give Microsoft credit for offering some interesting new features in its latest crack at Web search: Windows Live Search. A few of the changes in this occasionally rough beta version seem a little gimmicky, but others offer easy search customizations that could well make your everyday Web searching more pleasurable.
Of all the new features, I quickly came to appreciate Windows Live Search's ability to scroll through seemingly endless search results. Still, in this beta the scrolling felt herky-jerky, like moving along the notches on a gear, rather than smoothly scrolling down a lengthy Web page.
A new feature of more dubious value is a slider control on the top right of the Windows Live Search results that lets you view more or less text in each listing. Unfortunately, there's little actual difference among the three settings. The slider control is much more effective when you're viewing images, as you get six thumbnail sizes to choose from. Even better: When you hover over an image, it enlarges slightly, and information about it--including its URL, size, and resolution--appears below it. This info is similar to the data Google provides with its image results (minus the enlargement), but Windows Live Search also lets you send an e-mail to Microsoft and tag the image as inappropriate, copyrighted, or irrelevant. If an image turns out to be copyrighted, the company will remove it.
Another new feature--one that will have to prove its merit--is the search macro. It lets you search with a single click a group of sites you select, but only after you've logged in to a Microsoft Passport Network account (a step I expect many people will hesitate to take simply to perform a search). Once you're logged in, creating a search macro takes about a minute, after which the macro appears as a button on the right side of the Windows Live Search toolbar. During my tests the service once again displayed its beta nature, offering no way for you to move from the macro-creation page back to your previous search results. You have to return to the main search page and begin the entire process all over again.
In my informal testing I was at least as satisfied with the results that Windows Live Search retrieved as I was with the results of the same searches on Google. It's probably no surprise that Microsoft Web sites dominated the results when I entered "Windows Vista" in both Google and Windows Live Search (a bit more so in the latter), but the results I ended up with when I searched for "Firefox 2.0" were equally relevant--if noticeably different--in both engines. So assuming Microsoft can iron out Windows Live Search's various wrinkles before its official debut later this year, Web users may have reason to rethink their current search strategy.
Windows Live Search
Beta service, not rated
Still rough around the edges, but it has some promising features.
Price when reviewed: Free
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