Microsoft is busy rolling out a flurry of search-related upgrades. A dizzying array of tools and features are coming via Live.com and Live Labs/Ideas. Also the company bought Onfolio and is going to integrate the functionality into a toolbar and more generally into the Live.com/browser/search experience. I haven’t had a chance to "play" with any of these things yet (I just heard about them yesterday) and late today saw some screenshots, but they’re provocative and interesting. I’m eager to see how these new tools function in practice.
In the abstract, most of the things that were described to me strike me as improvements that will probably appeal to sophisticated searchers but they may well have broader market appeal over time. It’s difficult to tell entirely without using them. Along those lines, Live.com seeks to rival Google’s Personalized Homepage and My Yahoo!. And I think there is an opening there for Microsoft if it can get the right mix of elegance, functionality and simplicity.
Another question is the relationship between the "Live" and MSN brands. Microsoft has too much traffic and too much invested to walk away from the MSN brand (one journalist asked that question today). Rather, Live and MSN will exist in parallel and we’ll see what sticks. There will be some cross pollination of Live on MSN.
I think Microsoft also recognizes it now needs to create a new user experience to generate traction around search and related products. Search.msn.com has yet to "move the needle" in terms of market share. That’s because MSN Search hasn’t shown itself to be obviously better or otherwise differentiated from what’s already out there. Despite conflicting data on this point, I believe that search engine user behavior is now habitual and that there is loyalty. In addition, Live Labs is part of a larger corporate initiative to be more competitive and nimble online.