Microsoft Plays Challenger in Search Wars

In an unaccustomed role as challenger, Microsoft unveiled its search enginethis week to some glitches and complaints — nothing new for the softwaregiant — and the new presence prompted Google to respond immediately.

The result is a bit of a role reversal as the upstart turned dominantplayer, Google, prepared for battle with the hungry newcomer, Microsoft.

The software giantannounced that its MSN Search Service would deliver results from more thanfive billion Web documents. Google tried to upstage Microsoft’s unveiling by announcing that its spiders now crawled more than eight billion pages.

IDC analyst Sue Feldman told TechNewsWorld that as search engines continue growing and “spidering”larger indexes, response time and relevant results become the greatestchallenges.

Still, Feldman said that one of the most important things to remember is that this market — already competitive with Google,Yahoo and other search applications — could still grow. “There is room for more than one business,” Feldman said, likening searchengines to automobiles. “This is a huge market.”

Non-Google Glitches

Microsoft’s searchsuffered from early glitches and poor reviews upon its release, which was inbeta form.

The glitches were minor, and analysts such as Feldman concurred withMicrosoft’s statements that the hiccups, which included “page unavailable”notices on some searches, were expected.

“The only way you can test these things is to have lots of people hittingon it,” Feldman said. “It isn’t until you go live that you know how manythings can go wrong or won’t go wrong.”

Some reports also indicated that the MSN Search, which provides a moreelaborate advanced search and has been called faster than Google, deliveredless relevant results — a key challenge and requirement of quality searching.

Good and Bad of Late

Feldman said MSN Search, which attempts to provide relevant answersbased on type of query, was both benefiting andsuffering from coming late to the market.

“The advantage is, you learn from the mistakes already discovered andmade,” Feldman said. “There is a technical advantage in waiting to see whatare the problems and finding it in your own code first.”

As for the down side, Feldman said Microsoft is releasing its search tofar more scrutiny and lacks the experience that a strictly search-orientedcompany might have.

“MSN is coming into a very different world than Google came into whenthey started out,” Feldman said.

Feature Factor

Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio said while Microsoft certainly wantsa piece of the multi-billion dollar search engine market, it is now facingthe same kind of challenge it has posed to rivals for years.

“It’s what you get used to,” DiDio told TechNewsWorld, referring toGoogle’s existing mind and market share. “Now [Microsoft is] going to haveto fight on feature/function.”

DiDio said that despite the players’ focus on their billions ofpages crawled, users are more interested in innovative features, and the players will compete on this front.

“The customer doesn’t really see that,” DiDio said of the page figures. “Whatthey see is, ‘Is there some new gee-whiz thing I can do with one that Icouldn’t do with the other.’ It’s what people can see and use that’s going tohave cachet, not five or eight billion.”

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