There’s no hiding the significant effort Microsoft are putting into re-vamping their online software and search services. We recently reported on the new “Live” branding that has been launched, which is designed to be the new label for Microsoft’s online offerings.
The latest update has seen two major changes to their search engine and yet another “Live” beta release. Firstly, their search engine results are now displayed in the neat, clean cut white format that appears to be the trademark appearance of all their “Live” beta releases. The new format removes much of the clutter that once filled their results pages which makes the search experience much simpler and more user friendly.
Some of the highlights of the new format include a wider search field, increased use of the web page’s real estate and a new search builder functionality which allows more advanced style searches. It includes the usual array of advanced options but also features a results ranking facility, so that users can weight the rankings based on 3 core criteria; Update Recently, Popularity and Exactness of Match.
Whilst the new format is much clearer and easier to use, my only concern is the lack of cohesion between the MSN sites. If you complete a search request on www.msn.com, which is the typical MSN graphical interface, the results appear in a totally different format. If you remove the subtle MSN butterfly, you’d never know that you were within the same online network. Maybe their portal site will be the next site to get a refreshed “Live” layout.
The other major update has been the release of their latest algorithm tweak. Many have noticed a significant change in their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). As with all updates, some website owners are pleasantly surprised with the new results while others re-evaluate their SEO strategy in an effort to re-establish their higher rankings.
In continuing with the massive release schedule for the “Live” project, they have also just made Office “Live” available in beta. Comprised of three versions, Office Live is squarely aimed at the small business market, providing tools for building and managing web sites, storing and managing data, and collaboration/project tracking services.
Though all three versions are free during the beta period, only the Office Live Basics will remain free after a full release. The Collaboration and Essentials packages will eventually incur a monthly fee.
Microsoft has offered many of these services in the past under the bCentral brand, but the lack of market penetration of bCentral has forced the new positioning. “Live” is aimed at placing Microsoft in direct competition with Yahoo! and Google, whilst also countering large web services companies like GoDaddy.
It appears that 2006 is the year that Microsoft has decided to push full steam ahead with the improvement of their online services. Early signs show they are heading in the right direction and are providing genuine competition for Google and Yahoo!