Google One-Ups Microsoft

The companies continue to jostle with Yahoo! over dominance of an evolving search landscape.
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Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

debuted a provisional version of

its new search engine Thursday, prompting rival

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

to announce improvements of its own.

MSN Search, available at

beta.search.msn.com, represents Microsoft's latest volley in its attempt to challenge the dominance of Google and

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

in the search business.

Like being a portal to the Internet a few years ago, having attractive search technology -- and being able to maximize revenue from search -- is increasingly seen as a key element of growth and success for major Internet publishers. That has made the search function a battleground on which different companies fight for control of the computer desktop.

One of the unanswered questions for investors is to what degree Microsoft's gains will translate into losses for Google and Yahoo!; that is, whether the overall growth in Internet searching and related technologies will be offset by Microsoft and any other new entrants in the business.

Microsoft's shares rose 24 cents to $29.97, while Google rose 96 cents to $168.82, and Yahoo! rose a penny to $36.67.

Among other features touted by Microsoft, MSN Search allows users to ask questions directly of the search engine and receive answers from Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia. Phrasing a search as a query, as opposed to as a list of words or a relevant phrase, is an approach favored also by the search engine

Ask Jeeves

(ASKJ)

.

MSN Search also enables search tailored to a geographic location, and lets users customize results by emphasizing or de-emphasizing various criteria such as recency or popularity.

Meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to have a little precipitation fall on Microsoft's parade, Google Wednesday evening updated the number on its home page indicating how many Web pages it searches in its index. The number, which went from 3.3 billion to 4.3 billion in February, now stands at 8.1 billion -- about 3 billion more than the number of documents Microsoft now claims it is indexing.

"Comprehensiveness is not the only important factor in evaluating a search engine, but it's invaluable for queries that only return a few results," writes Bill Coughran, Google's vice president of engineering,

on the company's Web site.