Microsoft Releases Windows Live Search, Toolbar Betas

On Wednesday Microsoft unveiled several new Windows Live products and services. The company is now offering beta versions of its Windows Live Search service and Windows Live Toolbar and has dramatically updated its Web portal. According to the company, today’s updates are just part of a sweeping series of Windows Live product announcements that will roll out over the next few months.

“We’re unveiling a range of innovations that deliver an outstanding level of power and simplicity to search,” said Christopher Payne, corporate vice president of Windows Live Search at Microsoft. “Combined with the rich browsing and integrated searching services delivered by Windows Live Toolbar and, the new search service offers customers the next generation of unified services today.”

The Windows Live services are improving and multiplying so quickly these days that it’s hard to keep up. Windows Live Search uses MSN Search technology but offers numerous unique new features. Microsoft is incorporating into the Windows Live Search UI new bits that let users dynamically control how search results are displayed and perform “search within this site” subsearches within particular search results. Image search results are displayed dynamically, and pop-out metadata appears when the cursor hovers on an image. Microsoft is also integrating Really Simple Syndication ( RSS ) feed searches into Windows
Live Search, so customers can find the feeds they want and easily add them to their home pages.

The new Windows Live Toolbar works in many ways like the MSN Search Toolbar, adding such capabilities as anti-phishing functionality and pop-up blocking. But the Windows Live Toolbar includes several unique features, such as a tool called Onfolio , which Microsoft recently acquired along with the company of the same name. The Onfolio tool lets
Windows Live Toolbar users collect information from Web sites, organize it on their PCs, and then share it with others. (Before being acquired, Onfolio charged for its product, but the Microsoft version will be free.) The new toolbar also detects RSS feeds, so users can add feeds to their home page.

Speaking of, Microsoft will unveil a dramatic redesign of this Web portal today. The redesigned portal will help new users more easily integrate RSS-based content into their home pages and will provide access to a collection of gadgets, small Web page add-ons that display dynamic content of their own. Microsoft is also using as a front end to information about the various Windows Live services.

In a briefing earlier this week, MSN Lead Product Manager Larry Grothaus demonstrated the new Windows Live products and services for me. “We’re starting to bring our services integration points to the surface and consolidate the look and feel across all of those experiences,” he said, referring to work now being done to ensure that all of the Windows Live services and products provide a consistent UI. “It will all start to come together over the new few months.”

As I mentioned, Microsoft has many plans for Windows Live. One small but potentially exciting update will make Windows Live Search more usable than alternatives such as the Google search engine. A new feature called Search Macros will let users build custom search strings, then save them locally and share them with other users. For example, you might want to search for specific product types, but only on bargain online retailer Web sites. With Search Macros, users will be able to visually construct these types of queries and save them for later use. “We’re taking the power of the tool and making it more useful,” Grothaus said. “Customizable search macro capabilities are coming.”

The beta versions of Windows Live Search and the redesign of are available now at the Web site. The Windows Live Toolbar beta will be available later today.

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