Building on its previous MSN search model, which was powered by Yahoo and other companies, the Redmond, Washington-based software king has now developed an entirely Microsoft-powered search tool called MSN Search, which launched Thursday in 26 markets and 11 languages.
The new search engine can locate email and desktop files, access more than 5 billion web pages and cull results from Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia. MSN Search can also launch specific actions from the search interface, such as listening to song samples and buying and downloading songs from MSN Music.
MSN Search enables users to conduct searches specific to a geographic location with a "Search Near Me" option that localizes results. Search queries can also be customized to yield results specific to news content, language, images, Internet domains, website addresses and web page popularity or creation date.
Although a full rollout of the search engine won't be available until next year, Microsoft said in a statement that, over time, MSN Search will completely replace the search engine Microsoft currently licenses from Yahoo.
"The release of our beta is a huge step toward delivering the information consumers are looking for online, faster than previous versions of MSN Search," said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president for the MSN Information Services.
Analysts that have so far tested out the beta search tool have given it a lukewarm reception, although there is mounting speculation that the software king could still claim a substantial portion of market share from search rivals Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and AOL.
In a counter move this week, Google announced that it had nearly doubled the size of its search engine index to more than 8 billion web pages, dwarfing Microsoft's 5 billion.
Google made a similar move when Yahoo launched a search engine powered by its own in-house technology by expanding its web index to 4.3 billion pages.