Dig into any self-labeled "SEO forum" and you'll probably find some neatly organized categories along the lines of "Google," "Yahoo," and "MSN". Checking the amount of activity in each will reveal the inclusion of Yahoo and especially MSN seems to be a mere "courtesy" on the part of the forum founders. Microsoft has been trying to change this for some time now, and the newly branded "Windows Live" is their latest attempt to do so. Will all those vacant MSN forums be lively any time soon? The short answer is "no," read on to find out why.
Live.com is many things, including a search engine, customizable web portal, and the latest attempt by Microsoft to dig into Google's market share in search. Its opening page is a simple one, in keeping with the "expectations" built by Google, providing several options and an invitation for you to personalize it as your own web portal.
Most of the features on the site are functional; while a few remain in the development stage and some are in between. Only Passport members can fully customize the basic Live page with RSS feeds and "gadgets", much like Google's portal page with Google Accounts. The basic, un-customized page offers a search bar with the options of Web, Images, News, Local and QnA.
The Web search performs much as other search engines, only it serves ads from MSN's new ad network instead of Adwords. It does offer a "related search" section, something Google has yet to implement, but a standard feature of Ask.com for a while now.
The relevancy of the results, is, as always, a matter of debate. MSN's Search performs ably in many regards, but one can't help but wonder if the larger index Google provides means you're missing something. Relevancy is undeniably important, though. It is one of the core reasons a searcher might actually make a switch, should his current engine of choice "let him down" too many times.
The Images search is an improvement on the Google and Yahoo technology, in that it offers dynamic thumbnail display in a "pageless" layout. Pass your cursor over a thumbnail and it will enlarge, with a brief description and the URL where the image can be found. The interface is intuitive and really feels innovative. The thumbnails can be dynamically resized, and the "scratchpad" can quickly create collections by drag-and-drop. The primary drawback to this very innovate feature is that it will respond slowly for those on dial-up and with weaker machines.
The News Search is a direct search function that lacks the "top stories" aggregator of Google News. Type in a word and you will get back a search list that is drawn from mainstream news outlets, which have stories that use your search term in the first sentence or two. The Local button will give you an interactive map of the area where hits for your search term are found. There's little innovative here, but the presentation of the map is nice. It offers similar variations on the "route, aerial, and hybrid" graphical display popularized by Google Maps.
Windows Live Q&A allows you to post a question to the Windows Q&A universe and see who has an answer. This system is still in beta, so the technical specifics may change. Users post a question that is then open for 4 days to responses. At the end of the 4 day period, voting commences on the answers provided. This feature currently has no Google analog, though Yahoo has a similar service.
Additional Features- Betas
A variety of betas for Live services are available through ideas.live.com, the MS equivalent of Google Labs.
The Windows Live Mail is an in-house mail service that provides you with two gigabytes of storage and an updated version of what appears to be Outlook Express. It has some desktop features and keyboard hotkeys, new methods of sorting and categorizing, but nothing terribly radical. Windows Live Mail Desktop is a program that allows you to manage multiple e-mail accounts, including AOL, Gmail and others. It also manages newsgroups and RSS feeds.
Microsoft Live Office will be a web hosting service designed to provide you with a basic business website and domain name. Google Page Creator has tread this territory before, but was aimed at personal use, whereas Microsoft, with the "Office" brand, seems to be targeting businesses.
Windows Live Shopping and Windows Live Product Search are both as advertised: attempts to provide web-wide searches for products and shopping opportunities. The product search gives a dynamic display that can range from a simple text list to a thumbnail layout that borrows from the innovate image search layout. Searches can be refined by seller, brand, and most interestingly, "related term", which provides a "tag cloud" of the kind popular with social bookmarking sites today.
Windows Live Academic, mentioned above, will provide search opportunities in "thousands of academic and research journals." If their database has some heft to it, this will be a great addition to the search process. It remains to be seen if this academic resource will rival Google Scholar. Like Google Scholar, the results can be frustrating as many provide links only to abstracts or excerpts. Access to the full text of such results requires purchase or subscription to the journal in which they were originally published.
Live.com's primary innovative feature is the image search, and even that has issues with slower connections. So far, virtually everything else served up by Microsoft has been done by Google, or other search engines, before. Even if Microsoft was able to "do it better", it will have a hard time convincing existing users to switch from Google, as there is little incentive to do so unless these services are done so much better. That is not currently the case. Microsoft merely offers an "alternative" with Windows Live, not an indispensable alternative.