Windows Live Academic Search, Microsoft's search service for scientists, scholars and other such studious folks, debuted on Tuesday with the noble aim of providing easy access to information tucked away in specialized pedagogic journals and conference notes.
You don't need to be a professor or Ph.D. candidate to use the service, but you may need to be using a PC -- Mac users report difficulties in viewing search results no matter what Web browser they are using.
Those who can view the site are able to peruse the search results at no charge, scrolling though lists of articles, academic papers and presentations from scholarly conferences.
But to access the complete text of many articles, users must either have a subscription to the journal that published the work, be connected to the network of a subscribing institution or pay on a per-article basis.
The beta offers searchable content in the fields of computer science, electrical engineering and physics. The user interface is already in excellent shape, but more content is needed for computer science.
A search for "VoIP" returned only five results; a search for "DDoS" returned four. Searching for "Virus" returned 108,453 results, qualifying that search with "Computer" slashed the results to five articles.
Windows Live Academic Search is a direct competitor to Google Scholar. The two services have some notable differences.
Google gathers content by searching for it across the Web; Microsoft opted to work directly with publishers to build its content database.
The benefit of the Microsoft approach is the assurance that all search results are culled only from scholarly journals. But Google provides access to a significantly greater depth and breadth of content at the moment -- the bulk of which is apparently from scholarly, peer-reviewed journals.
Windows Live Academic Search does an excellent job of letting users drill down through material to find exactly the information they need.
Search results are presented in a split-pane view, with an abstract from the user-selected articles on the right, along with author, source and publication date. The left-hand pane displays the search results.
Users can sort results by author, journal, conference and/or date. Citation support for the two primary bibliographic formats -- BiBText and EndNote -- is provided, enabling users to quickly compile a list of citations.
Windows Live Academic Search supports RSS news feeds, and searchers can set up alerts to notify them when new information on a selected topic or when a specific author is added to the database.
The beta service is available in English versions in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and Australia. Other localized versions and content in additional subject areas will be added throughout the beta period.
Windows Live is a set of Internet-based services and software ranging from personal blogs to hosted business management solutions for small businesses, as well as image search, news search, RSS feeds, mail, local search and shopping search capabilities.
The first Windows Live services were released as betas on Nov. 1, 2005. Windows Live will eventually replace MSN search.
Microsoft has been playing catch-up with Google for several years, launching its own mapping, shopping and personal computer search tools after Google released Google Map, Froogle and Google Desktop.
Microsoft is hoping that Live Search will liven up Microsoft's share of the search market.
Google remains well ahead of MSN according to online marketing statistics firm ComScore. Google's share of the Internet search queries rose to more than 42 percent from 36 percent a year earlier, while Microsoft's MSN search fell to a 13.5 percent share, down from slightly more than 16 percent from the previous year.