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Thursday, November 11, 2004

MSN's cool search tool

Microsoft's sleek new search tool - meant to rival Google, as well as A9, Clusty, the new Jeeves, and all the other next-generation ones (see "Speaking of search engines," 10/22) - launched today. "It shows all the signs of becoming a very serious challenger," writes the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg. Like Google, it will soon include the option to search your own PC (the whole thing's still in beta, so not all on line as yet). There are a lot of things it does like Google (tho' the former just upped the number of Web pages it crawls to a staggering 8 billion, compared to the 5+ billion MSN claims). Unique to MSN is real answers (from Microsoft's Encarta) to fact-type questions, results "near me" (like local restaurants), and a fascinating new tool called "search builder" that I checked out. Search builder lets you search with in a single Web site you put in the search box; find sites that link to a site of your choice (bloggers will love this); search sites in a language or based in a country or region you specify; adjust your search parameters (say whether you want only very popular sites returned, or sites updated recently, or if you want an exact match to your search query or only an approximate one). As with Google, you can also search just news coverage and images, but Mossberg says MSN's music search is better (maybe because MSN has a music store?): "I typed in 'Rolling Stones' and was able to click on, and hear, previews of several Stones songs right from the search result. I was also able to go directly to a page in the MSN music store where I could buy the songs."

Parents will also want to note that MSN search can be filtered. Its default setting is " Moderate - Filter sexually explicit images only," so if you want most sexually explicit text filtered too, from the main page, click on "Settings" under the search box, then on "Strict" under "SafeSearch." You'll need to click "Save" at the bottom to save this setting for whenever MSN search is used on this computer (it stays that way, even if the PC's turned off, till someone changes the setting). Of course, this measure works best when accompanied with a house rule about not changing search-engine and other parent-imposed settings. Here are the New York Times, the BBC, and CNET's spotlight on this.


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