MSN today fired a shot across Google's bow with the debut of a beta version of its newly developed MSN Search service.
Microsoft claimed that the offering, which is targeted at consumers, provides a new class of faster, customisable search tools.
The global beta version of MSN Search is available today for public use in the US and worldwide in 26 markets and 11 languages from local MSN websites.
The tool indexes over five billion web documents - some three billion fewer than Google - and offers enhanced search functionality by providing relevant answers to direct 'natural language' questions such as: 'What is the second-longest coastline in the world?'
MSN Search also features a 'Search Near Me' tool designed to automatically provide information and resources that are geographically close by.
Content-specific searching has been integrated into the offering to allow consumers to search for specific information using search tabs such as 'web', 'news' and 'images'.
Users can customise search results by emphasising or de-emphasising certain search criteria, such as specific sites or domains, countries, regions or languages.
"The release of our beta is a huge step towards 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 & Merchant Platform division at Microsoft.
"With better results and more powerful search tools, MSN Search is creating a new, higher standard for online search, one that helps consumers find the information they need, when they need it."
Microsoft has built the core search engine in-house over the past two years based on its own technology. The MSN Search beta can be accessed here