Microsoft: New Live Search 'as good as Google'

'And better than Yahoo!'

On the surface, the new Live Search update is indeed a step forward. Microsoft gave a three hour dog-and-pony show at its Mountain View headquarters, and we now have private access to most of the new tools. But it's hard to tell how big that step is.

By expanding the Live Search index, Microsoft claims, the number of queries that return fewer than 10 results has been cut in half. Plus, the company says, its search results are "fresher", and it's better at finding user generated content. "Overall, the quality of the index is something that we paid a lot of attention to," Nadella said, "and we feel very, very good about the improvements."

Meanwhile, Nadella and his cohorts say they've improved the engine's ability to refine queries. Supposedly, it's much better at correcting spelling, analysing punctuation, and dealing with so-called "stop words". If you search on "The Office," for instance, Live Search now recognises the importance of the word "The" - so it knows you're looking for a television show, not a software package.

After less than an afternoon with the new engine, it's difficult to say just how effective it is, but time will tell. As it stands, we're most impressed by the new machine translation, which automatically translates foreign languages sites you might visit. You can view the original page and the translation page side-by-side, or you can simply mouse over a portion of text to view its translation. But at one point during our anecdotal testing, this tool quit working entirely.

Among the vertical search tools, we particularly like Microsoft's new video platform. Though it wouldn't mention the company by name, Microsoft has dumped AOL as its video partner and built a new engine from scratch.

The new platform gives you in-page previews of videos when you mouse over thumbnails, actually playing part of the clip, and in some cases it's smart enough to preview not just the beginning of a video, but "big moments" that come later on. By recognising camera flashes in a sports video, for instance, it can preview the big play. But again, during our spot tests, this didn't always work as advertised.

We can forgive Microsoft for a glitch or two. But we can't forgive its incessant claims that Live Search can now compete with the folks down the road. At one point, a Microsoftie bragged that the company's new celebrity tracking tool - Celebrity xRank - is updated twice as often as Google's. And Satya Nadella actually rolled out a bar chart that purported to prove Live Search is now just as good as its arch-rival. We'll let a few million web users be the judge of that.®

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