Microsoft's Kumo search engine creates buzz

Microsoft is expected to unveil its new version of Live Search next week

Microsoft has not even released or confirmed next week's rumored release of its Kumo search engine, and already the industry is speculating what the new engine will or will not do, both in terms of functionality and for the company's search market share.

While little is officially known about Kumo, the Wall Street Journal has reported Microsoft will unveil the new search engine next week. Some industry analysts said they already have been briefed about the search engine under nondisclosure agreements.

Microsoft has never publicly acknowledged that it will rename its Live Search engine Kumo, but the company has confirmed it's testing a search engine internally using the Kumo.com URL. Bing is another name rumored to be the rebrand for the next iteration of Live Search.

Some believe the new search engine won't have any new technology beyond what competitors Google and Yahoo already have, based on screenshots of Kumo that were leaked to the Web in March, said Greg Sterling, analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence.

"It doesn't look radically different from the current form of so-called universal search," he said. However, Microsoft apparently has been doing work on the back end to improve the search engine, which won't be evident to people until they use the new engine, Sterling said.

Microsoft is expected to include some of the features of the Powerset search engine it acquired last June from the San Francisco-based startup.

Powerset developed a technology that attempts to understand the full meanings of phrases people type while searching, returning results based on that understanding.

Sterling, who has seen the new search engine but is not at liberty to disclose details of it, said that Microsoft believes it has identified a problem people have with finding what they're looking for with competitive search engines, and the company believes it can solve that problem.

"They think they can do a better job of fulfilling those unmet needs," he said.

Microsoft currently is a distant third behind Google and Yahoo in search-engine market share, and it has been investing significantly for a number of years to change that status.

Because Google has such a strong brand and so many people use it, it will be difficult for Microsoft to improve its position, Sterling said.

"People's behavior is pretty well established," he said. "You'd have to find some feature or set of features that's real useful or fun or interesting."

Sterling said Microsoft is realistic and does not expect the new search engine to change that overnight, but rather sees it as the next step in a series of moves the company will take to chip away at Google's share.

"I don't think Microsoft has the expectation that on day two they're going to catch Google," he said. "I think they're taking a longer term view of the market."

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