After what seems like years of tweaking and refining, Microsoft finally released a beta version of its search tool, which now relies on its own Web crawlers to provide the over 5 billion pages it indexes. The interface is much cleaner (a la Google), and there are some interesting new features:

  • Try the Search Builder function — it’s a drop down menu that makes it very easy to customize your search, by adding additional words, limiting results to certain sites, countries, or languages, and letting you view sites by how they are ranked.
  • Results are now cached, just like Google. Many of the results even show the date that the site was last crawled.
  • Next to the Search button is the Near Me button, which is MSN’s version of local search. You don’t even have to tell MSN where you’re located — the search engine guesses based on your IP address.
  • Like Google, MSN Search can act as a calculator (square root of 1,502), a unit converter (one pint in tablespoons), and a dictionary (define hippocampus).

Unlike Google, MSN Search relies upon its Encarta enclyopedia to return answers to specific questions (what is the population of Bangladesh?). It looks like the general consensus is that while it’s no Google-killer, it’s definitely a worthwhile alternative. For more, check out PC Magazine’s Review or Microsoft Unveils Its New Search Engine — At Last.