Suddenly the browser is a battlefield again. Not content to let Google and Yahoo customise Internet Explorer to draw users to their websites, Microsoft has released its own search engine toolbar for IE browsers. At stake is the search engine market, seen as an important tool for generating traffic.
The MSN Toolbar was released last week in beta form. Similar to the Google and Yahoo toolbars, the MSN Toolbar allows users to make searches from within the browser and provides some extra options. Users tired of endless advertising pop-up windows and websites that spawn windows faster than a user can close them will be pleased to find that all the toolbars have an option to disable pop-ups.
Each allows direct queries to their own search engines. They can search the web, the latest news and a dictionary. Microsoft and Yahoo also offer searches of shopping sites, movies and so on. Google users can search the Usenet archives. Google and Yahoo allow searches of images.
MSN and Yahoo include links to their other products, including webmail and instant messaging tools.
Google’s toolbar includes a form autofill tool and displays the current page’s PageRank score, although this method of measuring a page’s popularity has recently become less meaningful as webloggers link prolifically to each other.
In Computerworld’s unscientific test of the search engines, Google took the honours: the MSN and Yahoo search indices hadn’t yet been updated to include the news that the Queen would bestow an honorary knighthood upon Bill Gates. MSN bizarrely chose as a first selection an article about Gates’ wealth that didn’t even contain the word “knighted”.
Of course, the accuracy of different engines will depend entirely upon the nature of the search and the shrewdness of the search terms. Some people will choose to learn the eccentricities of a single engine; others will want all the tools available.
At the moment, the Google toolbar is probably the most complete of the three; we’re sure the MSN team intend to catch up quickly.