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Microsoft Goes It Alone With MSN Search; Bill Gates Writes Open Letter Online

"Input From Millions of Our Customers" Helped Shape Product, Gates Writes

Microsoft yesterday unveiled its first, 100% Microsoft-built search engine, MSN Search. Prior to this, Microsoft had relied upon Yahoo's algorithms and search results. MSN Search uses search technology developed by Microsoft alone. They are however still using Yahoo's sponsor advertisement mechanism powered by Overture.

Microsoft developed its search engine so that it would be able to deliver what it describes as "the most precise, relevant results and instant answers to users' specific questions." A collection of tools is included to give Internet users greater control in targeting and refining searches. For pinpoint results, convenient tabs are included which let users direct entries to the Web, news, images, music, desktop or its own Encarta. MSN Search even isolates search results within these groupings.

For example, instant answers can be found using Encarta which Microsoft retooled so that searches can be efficiently made within select categories like calculations, measurements, world geography, and numerous other reference related topics. Microsoft is offering customers in selected markets Encarta Premium encyclopedia articles and associated media free of charge for any two-hour session.

"We're committed to continuous improvement in the speed, precision and ease of use of our search service," said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of the MSN Information Services & Merchant Platform division at Microsoft. "This built-from-the-ground-up version of MSN Search provides an infrastructure that enables us to rapidly innovate and give consumers precisely the information they're looking for, no matter where it's located."

Microsoft has made the engine available in 25 markets and 10 languages. Microsoft was tight lipped about the project as it was being developed. The success of MSN Search will help bolster the software giant's reputation, which has been beset by negative criticism over numerous security vulnerabilities in its Windows operating system.

Company Chairman, Bill Gates, was unabashed in his praise and satisfaction with the new tool. In an open letter available online, he writes, "Our mission at Microsoft is to use the power of software to solve our customers' toughest problems. Searching the Internet today is a challenge, and it is estimated that nearly half of customers' complex questions go unanswered. That's why we're proud of our new MSN Search service, a simple and powerful tool that helps you find the answers you want from sources as diverse as Web pages, images, news headlines, music downloads, and even files on your PC."

MSN Search can be accessed from Microsoft's home page (http://www.msn.com). Users will encounter a new layout stripped of superfluous graphics or text. The redesigned site is easy on the eyes, and is being met with favorable reviews, as is the technology working behind the scenes.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
Congratulations 02/22/05 03:08:57 AM EST

Microsoft has reason to be proud - massive innovation, backed by $US 40 billion in funds and zillions of programmers has made it possible for them to implement something that exists for years and has been implemented by others quickly without much fuss. And it might even work, we shall see.

Mark 02/04/05 09:25:43 AM EST

I see microsoft have updated their search engine (or at least made changes to the returned results). I noticed a comment the other day on slashdot where someone had searched for the words "anal sex" and the second hit on the results was microsoft.. hahaha

Bill Gates 02/03/05 02:05:43 PM EST

Every day, businesses face an ongoing challenge of making a wide variety of software from many different vendors work together. It's crucial to success in streamlining business processes, getting closer to customers and partners, or making mergers and acquisitions successful.

Whether you are connecting with partners' systems, accessing data from a mainframe, connecting applications written in different programming languages or trying to log on across multiple systems, bringing heterogeneous technologies together while reducing costs is today a challenge that touches every part of the organization.

Over the years, our industry has tried many approaches to come to grips with the heterogeneity of software. But the solution that has proven consistently effective - and the one that yields the greatest success for developers today - is a strong commitment to interoperability. That means letting different kinds of applications and systems do what they do best, while agreeing on a common "contract" for how disparate systems can communicate to exchange data with one another.

Interoperability is more pragmatic than other approaches, such as attempting to make all systems compatible at the code level, focusing solely on adding new layers of middleware that try to make all systems look and act the same, or seeking to make different systems interchangeable. With a common understanding of basic protocols, different software can interact smoothly with little or no specific knowledge of each other. The Internet is perhaps the most obvious example of this kind of interoperability, where any piece of software can connect and exchange data as long as it adheres to the key protocols.

Simply put, interoperability is a proven approach for dealing with the diversity and heterogeneity of the marketplace. Today I want to focus on two major thrusts of Microsoft's product interoperability strategy: First, we continue to support customers' needs for software that works well with what they have today. Second, we are working with the industry to define a new generation of software and Web services based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML), which enables software to efficiently share information and opens the door to a greater degree of "interoperability by design" across many different kinds of software. Our goal is to harness all the power inherent in modern (and not so modern) business software, and enable them to work together so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We want to further eliminate friction among heterogeneous architectures and applications without compromising their distinctive underlying capabilities.

This may seem like an obvious approach, but the desire for interoperability is sometimes mixed up with other issues. For example, interoperability is sometimes viewed merely as adherence to a published specification of some kind, either from one or more vendors or a standards organization. But simply publishing a specification may not be enough, because it overlooks much of the hard work it takes to successfully develop interoperable products - namely, ensuring that the "contract" defined by a specification is successfully implemented in software and tested in a production environment.

Sometimes interoperability is also confused with open source software. Interoperability is about how different software systems work together. Open source is a methodology for licensing and/or developing software - that may or may not be interoperable. Additionally, the open source development approach encourages the creation of many permutations of the same type of software application, which could add implementation and testing overhead to interoperability efforts.

WORKING WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

Wholesale replacement of existing technologies is a tough sell for most organizations. They simply have too much invested in a variety of systems from any number of vendors. So, making new software work alongside existing systems is an ongoing customer need. Because of this, Microsoft has consistently invested in helping customers integrate our platform and applications with a broad array of popular (and even not so popular) hardware, software and networks.

As a result of these efforts, Microsoft offers a comprehensive portfolio of interoperability software capabilities, from the operating system to individual applications. Our software works with a vast array of technologies in the marketplace, whether they shipped last week or decades ago. Microsoft software can talk to mainframes and minicomputers from IBM and other manufacturers; other operating systems such as the Mac OS and various UNIXes including Linux; NetWare or AppleTalk networks and native Internet protocols; dozens of programming languages, ranging from COBOL and RPG, through C++ and Java, to the latest experimental languages; hundreds of databases including Oracle, Sybase and DB2; popular business applications like SAP or Siebel; vertical industry standards like SWIFT or HL7; email systems; and infrastructure products providing message queues, directory, management and security.

Many of Microsoft's products, such as Windows, Office, SQL Server, Exchange and Visual Studio, have significant functionality dedicated to interoperating with non-Microsoft products. Some of Microsoft's server products are focused squarely on interoperability, such as Host Integration Server for mainframe connectivity, BizTalk Server for heterogeneous integration across multiple applications, or Identity Integration Server, which helps simplify user authentication and management across diverse systems. These resulted from many years of working to understand customer needs and their existing environments.

While our investments in interoperability are mostly focused on the design of our software, we are also involved in work that contributes to interoperability across the industry. Microsoft participates in many formal and informal industry standards organizations to help define the specifications that are a prerequisite for interoperability. We publish APIs, protocols and software development kits, and license our underlying intellectual property associated with this technology, to help others deliver interoperable software. And we collaborate and share technology with a wide array of industry participants, some of them direct competitors, to deliver interoperability solutions that work well with our products.

In fact, in a recent survey by Jupiter Research, 72% of IT managers rated Microsoft technologies as the most interoperable within their existing environments. Similarly, for enhancing interoperability in the financial industry via Web services, Microsoft .NET was recently named by Waters magazine as the best business development environment. This successful approach to interoperability stems in large part from Microsoft's heritage as a personal computer company: we have always put a lot of emphasis on well-defined mechanisms for how different products from different companies interact, because of the incredible diversity of PC hardware and software. Without a commitment to interoperability, the industry, including Microsoft, would have been stopped in its tracks.

USING XML TO ACHIEVE "INTEROPERABILITY BY DESIGN"

While Microsoft software supports an incredibly diverse array of interoperability mechanisms today, most of these are essentially unique efforts, each developed, tested and maintained individually to interoperate with a specific piece of hardware or software. The need to create individual solutions for each interoperability issue results in ever-increasing complexity. Customers and vendors - even companies of Microsoft's size - face resource limitations as they struggle to keep up with the documentation, testing and minute technical details required by this approach.

To address this issue, Microsoft has been working with the industry to advance a new generation of software that is interoperable by design, reducing the need for custom development and cumbersome testing and certification. These efforts are centered on using XML, which makes information self-describing - and thus more easily understood by different systems. For example, when two systems exchange a purchase order, the attributes of that purchase order are described in XML, so any receiving system can use that description to translate and use the enclosed information. This approach is also the foundation for XML-based Web services, which provide an Internet-based set of protocols for distributed computing. This new model for how software talks to other software has been embraced across the industry. It is the cornerstone of Microsoft .NET and the latest generation of our Visual Studio tools for software developers.

This approach is also evident in the use of XML as the data interoperability framework for Office 2003 and the Office System set of products. Office documents, spreadsheets and forms can be saved in an XML file format that is freely available for anyone to license and use. Office also supports customer-defined XML schema beyond the existing Office document types. This means two things: first, by supporting data in XML, customers can easily unlock information in existing systems and act upon it in familiar Office applications. Second, information created within Office can be easily used by other business applications.

The XML-based architecture for Web services, known as WS-* ("WS-Star"), is being developed in close collaboration with dozens of other companies in the industry including IBM, Sun, Oracle and BEA. This standard set of protocols significantly reduces the cost and complexity of connecting disparate systems, and it enables interoperability not just within the four walls of an organization, but also across the globe. In mid-2003, Forrester Research said that up to a "ten-fold improvement in integration costs will come from service-oriented architectures that use standard software plumbing." Forrester believes those improvements are realistic today. However, the definition of well-designed protocol architecture is just part of the challenge. As part of this collaborative effort, Microsoft and other companies have invested significant resources to ensure that Web services implementations from different companies really are interoperable. This has involved industry workshops, extensive testing, revision of specifications in the face of experience, and even setting up an industry body known as WS-I to help ensure interoperability.

Microsoft's interoperability investments to date have yielded significant benefits to customers and the industry. And we are well aware that we can do even more to help customers and partners achieve greater interoperability to meet their business needs. The foundation we are building with XML is already yielding significant reductions in the time, skill and cost required to integrate systems.

We also see a tremendous opportunity for developers and IT professionals to help usher in a new generation of software that is interoperable by design. We have launched a new Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/interop) that provides more details on the interoperability capabilities of our software. Please take a few moments to visit: you'll find technical information, Webcasts and events intended to help you get the most from your Microsoft products in a heterogeneous software environment.

Bill Gates

Enter Yahoo! 02/03/05 12:37:17 PM EST

Forget MSN Search - try Yahoo's new beta search, Y!Q (http://yq.search.yahoo.com/splash/start.html#news) It's way cool.

IE5 Problem 02/03/05 10:21:00 AM EST

So how come this doesn't support IE5? Venkat? Anyone?

Hello Venkat 02/03/05 09:37:07 AM EST

It's nice to see webpage developers at Microsoft aware of standards, and trying to adhere to them

venkatna 02/03/05 09:12:46 AM EST

The great thing about this release was this was driven solely by customer requirements. All we wanted to do was make the page better.

Compared to the old page, the new version is much faster. The page is lighter (about 2/3rds of what the old page was). We have also gone from a table based layout to a CSS powered layout. Granted, we were not able to hit complete compliance with standards. We still have some validation errors (about 130, the last time i checked) in the W3C Validator. We still have a couple of accessibility issues. All we ask for is for people to look at the page as a work in progress.

I have seen some feedback that we should not have declared the doctype as XHTML Strict. If anything, we are closer to HTML 4.01. I agree. But our target is to get to XHTML strict. We realize we are not at a point where we can say we have achieved our goal. We will be working hard to get to that goal. Let us know how we are doing. Where are we slipping up? What do we need to fix? We are listening.

Adam Smith 02/03/05 06:49:57 AM EST

Come on, guys. Don't fall for Microsoft's con. Once again, Microsoft has seen there there is a company making money on software and they can't stand it.

There products have always been mediocre at best, and their mode of competition is not the quality of their products. They will do *anything* to dominate market and product segments. They are predators, they have no scruples. And they are trying desperately to change all the internet protocols so that the internet is another area under their thumb. Do NOT cooperate with these guys.

Malik 02/03/05 06:41:27 AM EST

Try this search: download vb6 runtime. MSN search gives you pages and pages of dreck. No links to download the VB6 runtime, just dreck. Put the exact same search into GOOGLE, and the very first hit you get is the exact place to download vb6 runtime: ON MICROSOFT'S VERY OWN WEB SITE!!!!!!! shame...

spike2131 02/03/05 05:10:35 AM EST

On the whole, I've been happy with the MSN search. Mostly because my sites rank there when they don't rank in Google.

However, as far as the UI goes... why is the search text-box so friggin small? It's 20 characters wide. Google's is 50 characters wide. search.yahoo.com has space for 60 characters.

If I want to paste a long search string in the box, with MSN, I can't even see the whole thing. Why is MSN search being so miserly with the text box size?

411 web service 02/03/05 04:59:18 AM EST

##I refuse to use the MSN search engine until it lets you put a phone number in and gives you the information about who owns the phone and address..when this option is added I will then try the new search engine by MSN...thanks MSN keep on trying you might get it right soon.... ###

Bob, that's a simple enough Web service for them to incorporate it'll probably be in the next release, looks to me like this version was rushed out of beta a tad early in an attempt (which failed!) to steal Google's thunder. Instead Google has come out of its best ever quarter and MSN Search couldn't have been released at WORSE time.

Bob Davis 02/03/05 04:50:14 AM EST

I refuse to use the MSN search engine until it lets you put a phone number in and gives you the information about who owns the phone and address..when this option is added I will then try the new search engine by MSN...thanks MSN keep on trying you might get it right soon....

Bobbysmith007 02/03/05 04:37:43 AM EST

We were curoius how broken it would be in IE 5. In IE5.5 everything was mostly ok. In IE 5 it hard crashes IE. I dont know if I've ever seen anything quite so beautiful as that browser going down in flames on its own homepage.

desmond farrelly 02/03/05 04:05:36 AM EST

Well...In all honesty, though the open source legions may not like to have yet another omnipresent microsoft entry into yet another domain of applications technology, I have to say that it is a surprisingly userfriendly interface. In addition, I would and do think it does offer comparitive performance and features to any other search engine on the market.So, regardless of it not being written for X-11, it is a good product.

KR 02/03/05 03:48:34 AM EST

Oooh, and then there's the paid Microsoft schill who doesn't know any better on what to like when it comes to _true_ computing. You've obviously never spent anytime using Linux, and heaven forbid a Mac using OS X. QNX probably isn't even in your language and will be shocked with the new Netware offerings. Ever touched/used a Google appliance? Obviously not.

Microsoft has produced some of the most mediocre garbage that they could get away with testing on people. Influential? Highly ludicrous. Oh -- and my name _is_ all over Google...just FYI. Search for Linux.

jasons 02/03/05 03:30:24 AM EST

ooh - look! a silly microsoft hater above. i wonder if they think they can do a better job. microsoft have produced the most influential and code complete software the computer user is ever likely to see. a search tool is a piece of p!ss in comparison. get from behind googles arseh0le and learn a bit about computing! if you think you could do better, why isn't it your name instead of google or msn up there?

MSNSearch - No Thanks 02/03/05 02:04:42 AM EST

Gates in his letter writes "input from millions of our customers - including me - was crucial to our efforts to make MSN Search the best it can be." Not the best, note; merely 'the best it can be' given MS's lack of experience with search algorithms.

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