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Microsoft Works on Search Capabilities 480

bl8n8r writes "Microsoft is betting millions that someday it will be as well known for search as Google is. Some of its efforts to simplify search on the Internet will soon be in place. The new version of Microsoft's MSN Internet service, available this winter, will include a tool for retrieving digital photos based on images in the pictures. For example, users can ask their computers to retrieve all pictures that include a specific person's face or background."
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Microsoft Works on Search Capabilities

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  • by sixteenraisins ( 67316 ) <william.purpleandblack@com> on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:18PM (#7006170) Homepage
    If you've ever visited the MSN portal more than a handful of times in a two-week period, you'd know that:

    (1) The search capabilities are horrible; Google is much better.

    (2) The "news" story titles are misleading and the stories are frequently repeated over the course of a week; Yahoo! is much better.

    Once upon a time, businesses recognized their core competencies and did what they do best, and let other companies handle the things that those companies are good at. Once again, Microsoft chooses not to apply this conventional wisdom to their MSN portal

    Remember Microsoft Bob?

  • by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:18PM (#7006181) Homepage Journal
    But he said better personalization is one way to improve searching. For example, if MSN knows that the computer user searching for "pizza" lives in a specific ZIP code, it can deliver results of pizza places in that ZIP code.

    That's exactly why I *won't* want to use this new search engine. If I want to find pizza places in my zip code, I'll do it myself [pizzahut.com], thank you.

    Crap, if I wanted internet that logged into me, I'd already have it [xent.com].
  • Re:uh right... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Brahmastra ( 685988 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:19PM (#7006186)
    Internet Explorer won because Netscape sucked. While IE may have holes, the interface and the feel is far superior than anything else out there
  • by mopslik ( 688435 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:21PM (#7006221)
    ..."to google" is a much nicer verb than "to MSN".
  • by tessaiga ( 697968 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:21PM (#7006225)
    It won't be easy to shove those two aside, however. Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch online newsletter, noted that Google and Yahoo have loyal followings.
    Google commands the large following it has today because people trust the search results to be impartial as well as accurate. Having a good search algorithm is only part of the battle. That's why Google has been scrupulous about setting its "sponsored links" off to the side where they're clearly identifiable, and refusing to push up search results in return for cash. The trust issue is especially important in the closed-source world of search engines, where the details of how the searches operate are not released (part of their "security by obscurity" approach).

    Given that Microsoft doesn't have the best history as far as impartiality goes, even if they did come up with a good search algorithm, how much would people trust the results?

  • Images in pictures (Score:2, Insightful)

    by r_glen ( 679664 ) * on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:22PM (#7006235)
    ...will include a tool for retrieving digital photos based on images in the pictures

    Wasn't it already shown [slashdot.org] that this technology is quite unreliable?
    This 'tool' is not going to work, much like my Xbox.
  • Re:uh right... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrackHappy ( 625183 ) * on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:22PM (#7006239) Journal
    Bull crap. Take a look at Mozilla! It's MUCH better than IE hands down. The fact that you have COMPLETE control over your browsing experience is just one plus. The fact that the browser does pop-up blocking all on it's own is just one great example.

    Not only that, but you can even go further and get some Mozilla based browsers for Linux (and other systems?) like Konqueror or Gnome's browser (damnit, can't remember the freakin name).

  • by LilMikey ( 615759 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:23PM (#7006251) Homepage
    They're throwing around all these inflated statitics about how many people use their service and number of searches and what not. It's all PR! The only people using their search are those that type their searches straight into the IE address bar and that's about 75% of Windows users I'd say. I've never heard anyone claim that MSN is their search engine of choice. Noone actually *chooses* to use MSN search... probably because it's not that good.

    They'll have to iron out regular web searching before any of their gadgets and toys will be taken seriously.
  • by JavaSavant ( 579820 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:26PM (#7006303) Homepage

    I worked for AllTheWeb.com for a while before we were part of a package sold by FAST Search and Transfer to Overture over the summer. Overture then is gobbled up by Yahoo!, this all after Yahoo grabs Inktomi. The SEO market is in consolidation. Back after we were bought by Overture, there was a lot of speculation that Microsoft would buy out Overture, along with the Yahoo! speculation. In fact, each of the engineers with AllTheWeb.com were contacted by Microsoft regarding employment possibilities. One of my coworkers went to Yahoo! and i'm contracting now.

    But I digress...

    This is a market in consolidation. Microsoft throwing its' hat in the ring is probably a good thing for the market, like them or hate them. They have the capital to bring new products to market and introduce some more innovation to the search engine space. This IS a good thing. However it's going to cost Microsoft an arm and a leg to get in. Yahoo! bought Overture for the paid inclusion search, Google has it's own products now for sponsored search as we know. Microsoft is going to have to develop this capability in house now, or pay a king's ransom to Yahoo! to get the Overture paid search into their product.

    The only advantage Microsoft has is that when you install IE, your home page is always MSN search. When you mistype a URL (outside of VeriSign's squatting), you get sent to MSN search. They'll get a lot of traffic by default.

    But it also could re-open anti-trust inquires as well....very interesting.

  • by dmorelli ( 615543 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:31PM (#7006368)
    We shouldn't even be trusting Google as far as we do. It's a scary position of power to supply filtered data like this to the entire internet-using world.

    That's really the issue here, Microsoft could come up with the fastest, most reliable, and most impartial search technologies ever developed. But they still won't be able to get rid of that funky monopolistic proprietary smell.

  • by LibertineR ( 591918 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:33PM (#7006383)
    People are forgetting that for Microsoft to succeed, they dont have to beat Google, they dont even have to come close to Google. Someday, we geeks are going to have to come to terms with the fact that we are not the majority.

    Unless someone downloads the Google Toolbar [google.com], the only search option in 80% of the browsers on the web will be Microsoft's. That is a marketing message for advertisers that Google cannot match. Most of Microsoft's business are only to provide value-add for Windows and Office. Profitability beyond that is only gravy. Now, you take a Microsoft search, link it with Office-specific tools that let people search for supporting footnotes or photos while drafting a document, or PowerPoint presentation, then you have some value there.

    It doesnt matter at all whether Microsoft comes up with anything better than Google, what matters, is that they have the capacity to suck the oxygen from Google's revenue stream if they ever come remotely close, because of all the desktops under their control.

    The future probably sees Google in court asking to be placed next to Microsoft's own search button in their browser or whatever is supposed to represent browsing in Longhorn or beyond. When that happens, you know that Google has lost the battle.

  • by $calar ( 590356 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:39PM (#7006473) Journal
    Microsoft needs to realize that Google's success is on its simplicity and lack of obtrusiveness. MSN's web site is the antithesis of this. If they are spending all of these research dollars to find out that less is better, then it seems like a waste of money to me.
  • WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blinkylights ( 589120 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @02:51PM (#7006596)

    Joe6pack: Sorry, Google, I know you've got a better product and all, but MSN search came with my browser which came with my OS which came with my computer. Switching is too hard, and anyway I heard that MSN search works better with Windows.

    So MS illegally uses its OS monopoly to create a monopoly in the browser market, which it will now, in turn, use as leverage to gain an illegal advantage over search/portal competitors.

    I guess this is where the DOJ's failure to secure meaningful remedies against Microsoft comes to roost.

  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:05PM (#7006733) Homepage Journal
    Google's second main feature, right after it's great search capability, is simplicity. (Actually, these two features are strongly interrelated.)

    Knowing MS, they will screw this all to hell with stupid wizards, options, drop down menus, Clippy, etc. Have you seen their "Files and Folders" search in XP, compared to Win98 and 2k? They tried to make it user friendly, but for me, it's harder to use!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:06PM (#7006742)
    That happens on Google *all the time*. It's frustrating as all hell.

    Family Guy scripts [google.com]
    Saturn valve cover gasket [google.com]

    the list goes on and on. Google's nearly unusable.
  • by reporter ( 666905 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:08PM (#7006754) Homepage
    Unfortunately for Google, the market for doing Internet searches has a low barrier to entry. Just look at all the search engines that appeared after Yahoo. There is AltaVista, Lycos, AskJeeves, etc. Still, the search engine at Google sports advanced sorting and presentation algorithms that the aforementioned search companies could not match 3 years ago. Why? Those companies simply were interested in bringing any kind of search capability to market as soon as possible, regardless of how simple the search capability might be. Back then, we were in the midst of the Internet craze, and time-to-market was critical for delivering the unprofitable company to an initial public offering (IPO).

    Now, times are different. Companies like Yahoo and especially Microsoft are aggressively investing in building the kinds of complex yet user-friendly search capabilities that Google has. Microsoft will soon have a search engine that rivals or exceeds the capabilities of Google's search engine. Google is doomed.

    Internet-search tools is not the only market with a low barrier to entry. Another such market is the market for virtual machines. Consider the virtual machine monitor (VMM) sold by VM Ware [vmware.com]. It did excellent marketing of a very simple idea -- and a very old idea. VMM was invented by IBM and has been around since the 1960s. The theory of VMM has been well documented and understood in the scientific literature. VMWare took the idea of VMM and simply applied it to the x86 chips. VMWare's genius is in marketing its product as though it were a revolutionary breakthrough. Most of its customers bought the marketing campaign with hook, line, and sinker.

    Microsoft is now investing millions of dollars in VMMs and purchased the key VMM technologies from Connectix [connectix.com]. Microsoft has succeeded in creating a VMM that rivals or exceeds the capabilities of the VMM sold by VMWare. VMWare is doomed.

    Unlike both Google and VMWare, Microsoft has an R&D budget of billions of dollars. Microsoft can defeat both Google and VMWare in their respective markets. Despite public declarations to the contrary, both Google and VMWare are warily aware of Microsoft's R&D might and are working quickly towards an IPO while there is still chance for an IPO. If you buy stock in either Google or VMWare, you might as well just burn the money. It will be worthless.

    ... from the desk of the reporter [geocities.com]

  • by h00pla ( 532294 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:15PM (#7006830) Homepage
    Microsoft always has to be number one. The whole company should sit down with a psychiatrist (or at least Gates and Ballmer).

    You take a company like Branson's Virgin and you see that they like a certain sector and they go into it and they try to offer an alternative product in a fun way - music, airlines, cola, mobile phones, investment services.

    But Microsoft is totally the opposite. They have some kind of a corporate neurosis about owning and dominating it all. I associate no sense of fun with them. They are sort of like Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life. Now when I hear that they want to put Google out of business, it only confirms what George Bailey said of Mr. Potter, how warped and frustrated they are.

  • by blamanj ( 253811 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:22PM (#7006904)
    You forget that when MS ships IE 7 (or whatever) and resets everyone's home page to its portal with Faster(tm), Better(tm) search, a lot of people (i.e., non-geeks) will just use it.

    I spoke to someone the other day who didn't use Google because he thought he just needed "something simple" not as "sophisticated" as Google is. I explained to him that in this case, the "sophistication" wasn't a question of the number of features, a la MS Word, but a question of quality.

    Remember that as more people us the net, the net becomes more like TV, and to make money on TV, you don't necessarily go for the most sophisticed audience. Making money has always been a MS priority.
  • by Quetzalkwatle ( 709081 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:23PM (#7006914)
    I wonder if you ever tried the search machine of MCN to look for Linux related sites? If this is the way M$ will organise the successor of Google, then lets stay with Google!
  • furthermore (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SHEENmaster ( 581283 ) <travis.utk@edu> on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:39PM (#7007097) Homepage Journal
    google doesn't bother with extraneous crap. Altavista [altavista.com] and AllTheWeb [alltheweb.com] both support more types of searches than google.

    A single feature is useless when another engine still returns better results. I still use google for text searches, only hopping over to altavista for a music search.
  • by RoLi ( 141856 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:52PM (#7007231)
    Never undererstimate corporate stupidity.

    For example Microsoft bought the set-top box leader - WebTV and everybody thought they would drive everybody else out of business - yet they screwed it up so badly that despite millions of dollars Tivo etc. overtook the former leader WebTV.

    Google is successful with a simple concept: Don't be intrusive, carefully place advertisments and respect your visitor.

    What Microsoft and obviously you don't understand is that you don't need an RD budget of billions to deliver that.

    Microsoft's company philosophy and ethics are contradicting. They would plaster so many ads out there and scew the search results so much that they would open the way for alternative offers. Just look at MSN-search, the "featured" and "advertized" links are barely distinguishible from the rest. (a pale grey tiny text)

  • Let's see... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eric Damron ( 553630 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:53PM (#7007245)
    A battle between Microsoft and Google over search engine dominance. Who will win?

    Hmmmmm... What advantages does each side have? Google has current dominance in the web search market. Microsoft has the ability to bundle its search technology into IE which it integrates into 98 percent of all desktops running on the planet.

    Will the fact that this would be illegally leveraging its monopoly power on the desktop stop them? Doubtful. If their past behavior is any indication.

    So in this contest it will be: Google 0, Microsoft 1.

    Its been nice knowing you Google. You'll be able to sue but as our court system has shown, even if you win Microsoft will be allowed to profit from your demise.
  • Geeks like Google because it doesn't try to do too much for them. Mundanes will probably like a super-powered MSN search because it will do everything for them. The best part is that there is room for both mindsets. Just as IE coming with windows does not prevent people from installing Mozilla or some other browser and using it nigh-exclusively (MSNM client, for example, still runs iexplore explicitly, rather than using the system's default browser) MSN search being the default will not stop you from using Google. Especially if you don't use IE. The fact that IE will be ever more closely tied to the OS in no way changes this.

    I don't use MSN search at all any more. Even on the rare occasion I'm using IE (usually at school) and I somehow end up with MSN search results, I don't even look at them any more, I just close them and visit google. Or retype my URL :)

  • by Trepalium ( 109107 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @03:59PM (#7007328)

    It's this attitude that kills companies more than any other reason. You must remember that despite Microsoft's attempts, there are competitors that they haven't managed to kill. Intuit is one, despite Microsoft practically giving Microsoft Money away with Windows 95, bundling it in virtually every "home" product they make, and aggressively pricing it. Quicken and QuickBooks still exist and are doing very well.

    Should Google fear Microsoft? Who wouldn't? Should they lay down and die because they will inevitably be massacred by the Beast of Redmond? Of course not. Now, should Google IPO because of the Microsoft threat? I doubt it. Not being held to a board of stockholders lets them do things they wouldn't be able to do otherwise like refuse potential revenue streams like pop-up advertisments and pay-for-place search results. The very things that got Google where it is today would be lost if they IPOed and the stockholders started to demand that they maximize their revenue by doing so.

    Right now Google has a better product than Microsoft. If they continue to have a better product than Microsoft, there's a good chance they could survive. If they cease having a better product than Microsoft they will die.

  • by 00420 ( 706558 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @04:32PM (#7007663)
    You do have a point, but one problem is that the average computer user doesn't know that they can even get away from Microsoft.

    Many users will see the search and say "Oh that's how I'm supposed to search now, okay," and that's just what Microsoft wants.
  • by lurker412 ( 706164 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @04:34PM (#7007671)
    The article contains this statement:

    "Search engines are doing a good job but not a perfect job," said Koenigsbauer, adding most search results today "don't deliver the results people are looking for."

    This is certainly true. If Microsoft can do a better job than Google, that would be great. Given the pathetic search capability of Microsoft's own online knowedgebase, and their retarded clippy help system, one is not terribly hopeful.

    However, after many years and many millions they have managed to build a stable (if not secure) desktop operating system and IE is the overwhelming winner in the browser market. If they are really determined to own the search market they may succeed. Some day.

  • by Captain_Chaos ( 103843 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @04:36PM (#7007685)
    Also, and I think most importantly, we trust Google...
  • Heres the danger. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2003 @05:10PM (#7008005)
    1. MSN sets up search engine
    2. MSN redirects all IE searches to search engine
    3. Other search engines (e.g. Google) die off, MSN is only true one remaining.
    4. MSN removes sites they dont like from search engine, sites basicly ceast to exist.
  • by iantri ( 687643 ) <(iantri) (at) (gmx.net)> on Friday September 19, 2003 @05:14PM (#7008033) Homepage
    Except since Microsoft won't be shipping any more versions of Internet Explorer, it will wait for Longhorn.

    Weren't they supposed to stop bundling products?

  • by rodgerd ( 402 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @05:58PM (#7008346) Homepage
    You need to realise that the key to Microsoft's success is driving the users down the path of using the tools Microsoft prefer by leveraging the desktop.

    If you think Microsoft won't take advantage of that desktop by doing everything they can to make it as easy as possible to use their search and as hard as possible to use anyone else's, you're deluded.

    This isn't about whose product is the easiest and nicest to use. This will be about how hard it is to choose anthing but Microsoft's.
  • by FunWithHeadlines ( 644929 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @06:10PM (#7008424) Homepage
    " So all things being equal would you like to invest in a company that always strives to be number one or a company that is willing to be third, fourth, or seven-best in the sectors which they compete. "

    Microsoft goes well beyond that example to the far reaches of paranoia. Not only must they be number one in their sectors, they then cannot stand that there are other companies in other sectors doing well and so they feel compelled to go trounce them in that sector too. Then they take a deep breath, look around, and see yet another area that they didn't think of but someone else did and is succeeding at. And the beast rears up to devour yet another good company.

    This may make business sense, but it's so off the deep end psychologically that a growing number of people are saying they no longer wish to do business with such a company. Hint: Long term capital appreciation doesn't happen when you are despised in the marketplace and scorned by your potential customers.

    Microsoft couldn't be happy just being number one. They had to be the only one, and that's just sick.

  • by JavaSavant ( 579820 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @07:44PM (#7009085) Homepage
    Doubtlessly. They can spend all the money they want - but you still have to convince (force) people to use your product. They have a position in the market to go out and make an impact, and while the financial advantages they have doubtlessly enhance their ability to enter the market, they already have their foot in the door by virtue of their other products. If you look at the initial M$ suit, a major claim against Redmond was the practice of product tying. Introducing an internet search which is defaulted as your home page, defaulted as your redirect on mistyped URL's, and in all likelihood eventually accessed through the OS as well, can probably be seen as tying. Like I said, this could have interesting legal implications. Microsoft could get into the whole grain bread market tomorrow with the cash that they have and they wouldn't have as easy a time entering that market because they don't have their foot in the door there. It's often more important who your current customers are, rather than how much you can afford to invest to get new ones.
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Friday September 19, 2003 @10:29PM (#7009864)
    I would say it's worse than that. Other than the two core areas: operating systems (and I use the term loosely) and office suites Microsoft has managed to fail at, hose, bungle and just generally screw up everything else it has tried. Look at the personal finance market, for example. Intuit handily threw Microsoft out of that race, and the only reason that Microsoft didn't succeed with its usual approach of simply buying Intuit is because Federal regulators queered the deal. No, Microsoft, in spite of those billions of surplus dollars I keep hearing about, is a fundamentally incompetent operation outside of its few (phenomenally) successful areas. It remains to be seen whether the XBox has any staying power, but I think that Microsoft will ultimately manage to screw that up as well.

    I tend to agree with you that it will be difficult to unseat Google. It works, its "free" and everybody uses it. Geeks aren't the only people that appreciate a clean, functional Web application without all the baggage. Matter of fact, I've found that most non-geeks I know prefer that simplicity, since a complicated portal site like Yahoo just tends to confuse them.

    And I think you're being too generous. Microsoft doesn't seem to have much in the way of corporate ethics and as far as philosophy goes ... well. The Mongols had a similar one.
  • by Devil ( 16134 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @12:35AM (#7010317) Homepage

    The chief problem with MSN is and always has been all the ads. I don't mind ads, as long as they're unintrusive. This, in my opinion, is where Google's single-mindedness made them the star. They didn't create a huge "portal", the way Yahoo, Lycos and the rest all did around 1999; rather, they simply created a search page. All it does is search.

    Google's ads are also revolutionary. Simple, all-text links, all of which are clearly labelled as adverts (or, to use Google's parlance, "sponsored links"), mean less confusion. In short, Google has chosen absolute simplicity and straightforwardness over marketeering. Microsoft will want to make money off ads, so unless they follow the Google credo to the letter, people will still eschew MSN for Google. The only way to topple Google would be to make a faster, simpler, less intrusive search engine than Google, an that is one mighty tall order.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead