Microsoft's Google Scholar rival set to go Live

Microsoft this week plans to release a new search tool that will go head to head with Google's Google Scholar service, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

The new Windows Live Academic Search service, which will be available in beta form at http://academic.live.com/ sometime in the next several days, will allow users to search academic journals and other scholarly publications, according to information posted on the Liveside.net blog, which isn't affiliated with Microsoft.

Microsoft has previously confirmed the existence of the new search tool, and said the first beta of it would be available sometime before late September.

Chris Overd, one of Liveside's authors, said Tuesday the search tool could go live as early as Tuesday, according to information provided to Liveside bloggers by academics who were testing the new service.

"As far as I know, this is happening [Tuesday], and all the academics Microsoft invited [to test the service] seem to be pretty excited by it," he said in an e-mail.

A spokeswoman from Waggener Edstrom Inc., Microsoft's public relations firm, said Tuesday that Microsoft will be making a "search-related" announcement this week, but declined to provide more details.

One of those early testers of the service, Dean Giustini, a medical librarian at the University of British Columbia, also said that the service would be available Tuesday in a blog entry he wrote after a visit to Microsoft's campus to have a look at the search tool.

"Though its official worldwide launch is Tuesday April 11th, 2006, a group of librarians and information professionals ... were brought in to review Microsoft's Academic Search," he wrote in the UBC Google Scholar Blog.Folio. "The librarians were asked to comment on the concept, look and functionality of the tool, one that is designed to go head-to-head with Google Scholar."

The verdict, at least from Giustini's perspective? "In short, I wasn't bowled over, but I wasn't disappointed either," he wrote in the posting. "Given the ... team has worked like demons for five months, they've come up with a useful tool. But it's only the start of what will likely be a protracted period of product development."

In an interview Tuesday, Giustini outlined in more detail how Academic Search stacks up to Google Scholar.

One missing element of Microsoft's tool is a feature of Google Scholar that enables users to search "cited" material, he said. In Google Scholar, users can search for material where a person's work is cited or where he or she is quoted in the text. This feature is an important one for academic researchers and librarians, Giustini said.

He said he suggested that Microsoft add this feature to the tool and members of the Academic Search team said they "were looking into it."

Another Academic Search feature that is different from Google Scholar is the ability to set up custom searches by using macros, which users can either set up themselves or download from the Windows Live start page at http:live.com, Giustini said. While this enables users to narrow their searches, it also adds a technical step that less Web- or computer-savvy users might find difficult to use, he said.

Google Scholar currently allows users to search according to vertical channels of information, which is a less technical way for users to focus their searches, Giustini added.

Windows Live Academic Search is expected to give users the ability to view an abstract for an academic article in a search preview pane and also view the complete article, as long as it is not being hosted on a Web site that requires a subscription or is restricted-access.

The new search tool also will enable users to view a complete academic journal article as long as they have a valid subscription to do so and purchase an article electronically using the British Library, among other features.

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