Microsoft formally launched MSN Search this morning, roughly 2 years after announcing plans to go head to head with market leader Google in the Web search market. The MSN Search launch follows several months of public beta testing, during which the company garnered feedback from users and fine-tuned the offering.
  
"This built-from-the-ground-up version of MSN Search provides an infrastructure that enables us to rapidly innovate and give consumers precisely the information they're looking for, no matter where it's located," Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of the MSN Information Services & Merchant Platform Division, said. Available in 25 markets and 10 languages, MSN Search features several innovative features that differentiate it from Google and other search engines.
  
For example, the new Near Me feature uses reverse IP lookup to find geographically relevant search results. And, with free access to the voluminous Encarta database, MSN Search can solve equations such as 2y^3 + 4y -10 = 9 and answer plain English questions such as, "Who shot Abraham Lincoln?" and "How many calories does spinach contain?" You can also use the service to perform conversions by using plain English questions such as, "How many pints are in 18 quarts?"
  
In addition, MSN Search features a Search Builder feature that uses simple graphical tools to help you build complicated searches. You can also categorize searches to limit them to currently playing movies, Encarta, images, music, news, stock quotes, shopping, the Web, or word lookup. These features logically integrate with other MSN services. For example, if you search for a music artist, you'll find links that let you purchase music or find more information about the artist on MSN Music.
  
To help drive users to its new search engine, MSN is also launching a new marketing campaign that will reach at least 90 percent of consumers in the United States and several hundred million other users worldwide. The campaign will include TV spots and print and Web advertising. Microsoft has also redesigned the MSN.com Web page to more prominently feature the new search functionality. MSN's Web site currently attracts more than 360 million unique users each month.
  
Will MSN Search succeed? Currently, search market leader Google has a commanding lead and is one of the most popular brands on the Internet. But Microsoft has a few interesting advantages. First, MSN Search will be highly visible across all the company's frequently visited MSN Web properties and services, including MSN Messenger; that visibility should attract a lot of users. Second, Microsoft's deep development background means that the company is ideally suited to solving the problem of relevant Web searches. In the future, MSN Search will be accessible via automobiles and cell phones and will use GPS to find directions, local restaurants, and other information that's relevant to your current position. Although the seeds of that work are now only in a gestational phase with the Near Me functionality, it's not hard to imagine where Microsoft is going with this technology. Finally, Google itself is highly overrated. The company values its strange home-brew server farms and offers silly employee perks such as Segways for use at work; a viable contender could easily show the company that the Emperor has no clothes.
  
Time will tell whether MSN Search has what it takes to unseat Google. Whatever happens, it will be a long, slow haul. In the meantime, I'll post my review of MSN Search on the SuperSite for Windows later today.