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Microsoft testing search engine to take on Google

Microsoft this week will start internal testing of Kumo, the company's update to its Live Search Web site and part of its stated effort to keep the pressure on Google.

The search engine could become either a brand for Microsoft's search properties or a consolidation of MSN Search and Live Search.

In a memo to employees, Satya Nadella, a senior vice president who leads Microsoft's engineering efforts around Live Search, MSN and advertising platforms, said, “We are launching a new test program called kumo.com for employees to try and provide feedback. Kumo is the code name we have chosen for the internal test.”

A public version of Kumo is expected to be released later this year, according to Nadella's memo.

Leaked screenshots show the Kumo interface as a three-column Web page with search results, text ads and search terms.

The Kumo technology appears to contain elements of semantic search technology Microsoft acquired in June last year when it bought Powerset. The company's technology attempts to understand the full meaning of phrases and returns results based on that understanding.

Kumo is Microsoft's latest attempt to find its footing in the search market, an effort best known for the company's failed attempt last year to acquire Yahoo.

Last week, CEO Steve Ballmer told financial analysts that Microsoft would not give up in the search business because the market holds too much promise despite the current domination by Google.

In addition to hiring in December noted search expert Dr. Qi Lu, who was executive vice president in Yahoo's search and advertising technology group, Ballmer said last week that the company has added 10 other key technologists from Yahoo. “We've got great talent in this area. And I think a great opportunity to really differentiate. But we are up against incredible odds. They [Google] have share, we don't have share.”

Kumo appears to be just one effort in a lineup of new search efforts brewing at Microsoft, including Viveri, which combines Live Search, visualization technology and vertical search technologies. There is also U Rank, a Microsoft Research test that combines search and social networking.

Microsoft also is building enterprise search around a family of SharePoint servers.

Microsoft is fighting the sort of beast it should be familiar with in the fact that Google's search business is projected to become larger and more profitable than Microsoft's Windows franchise sometime in 2009.

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