Microsoft uses Silverlight for experimental search site

Microsoft experiments with search and Silverlight on a Web site called Tafiti.

Microsoft has launched an experimental Web site that plays with two technologies the company plans to make a big part of its Web strategy going forward -- Internet-based search and Silverlight.

The site, called "Tafiti" -- a word that in Swahili means "do research" -- provides a combination of Microsoft's Live Search with an uncommon interface built using Silverlight. Microsoft launched Silverlight -- a combination of player and development technology -- in April as a way to embed multimedia graphics within Web browsers. The technology competes with Adobe Systems's Flash and Flash Player. Live Search is Microsoft's search engine, which the company has completely overhauled in the last two years and continues to optimize in an effort to compete with Google Inc. and others.

Microsoft developed Tafiti in conjunction with Seattle-based design firm Jackson Fish Market as a way for people to organize and do research for a project that would entail searching for various topics from different resources -- including Web pages, images and books -- on the Web. Microsoft also wanted to show how its nascent Silverlight technology could create a new Web experience for search, the company said. Microsoft has not said if it plans to use the site in a commercial way.

The search experience Microsoft presents in Tafiti is unlike most currently found on the Web. The graphics on the home page have a similar look and feel to the GUI of Windows Vista -- Silverlight after all is based on Windows Presentation Foundation, the graphical subsystem contained in Vista. The page includes a box for entering a search topic on the left hand side of the screen, which is created to look like the top of a piece of looseleaf paper, with a blank white section in the center with the heading "Web" where search results appear. On the right is a notepad-like application that Microsoft calls a "shelf," with thumbnail-sized screenshots of what look like Web pages.

Once a search topic is entered, the results come up in the center. Users can drag and drop searches they want to look more closely to one of the search shelves on the right side of the screen. These searches can be stacked on top of each other on each shelf, and when a user clicks on the notepad with the saved searches, they appear in the center of the screen on graphics that look like torn pieces of paper. Users then have the option to create a link to the page in a blog through the "Blog it" command, or to e-mail the Web site to someone via the "E-mail it" command.

Previous searches also are saved in a similar way, with a new box appearing on the left to begin a new search that is stacked on top of the previous search so that can be accessed if a user so chooses.

Users also can look at search results in a "Tree View" by clicking on that command on top of the search results page. That takes users to a page on which a tree appears with the first few words of all of the different search results appearing as various branches. Mousing over a search result makes a notepad pop up with some information from the search result and a link to the Web page.

Tafiti runs on Windows Vista and XP SP 2, and is accessible through Internet Explorer versions 6 and 7 and Mozilla Firefox 1.5.0.8 and 2.0.x on these OSes. It's also available on Firefox 1.5.0.8, 2.0.x and Apple Safari 2.0.4 on Apple Inc.'s Mac OS X.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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