Microsoft hopes to back up its refrain that it has a plan to catch Google by showing off some improvements to its Live Search product at a company-sponsored advertising conference later this month.
"We will start to show you the next version of the search," Chairman Bill Gates said in comments to reporters in Japan Wednesday, promising that Microsoft had some exciting things up its sleeve. The comments were included in a partial transcript provided by Microsoft.
The spring update is also expected to include new types of vertical search and improvements in overall relevance of search queries, according to a source familiar with the company's plans. Specifically, Microsoft is expected to add to the shopping-specific search tools that debuted in its Fall 2007 release. Microsoft has also been working on a new look for its Live Search product, which went live this week.
The company has struggled to make headway in search, particularly in the area of being the place that consumers go for general Web queries.
Microsoft has been a distant third in search, accounting for 9.4 percent of core U.S. search queries in February, according to ComScore. Google, held a 59.8 percent share, while Yahoo was second, with 21.3 percent.
Many of Microsoft's recent changes have centered around improving specific types of searches, such as image search, celebrity tracking, and medical searches. The company is also focusing a good deal of energy on trying to build "search experiences" into its various Web products.
Windows Live General Manager Brian Hall reiterated that's Microsoft's approach in a speech to investors on Tuesday. Hall echoed an oft-repeated line that search can be a lot better than 10 blue links, particularly if it is integrated into the task people are doing when they make the queries.
"We think we can do a lot more to drive contextual search," he said. "We see a lot of opportunity to push the envelope there."
Microsoft declined to offer detailed comments on what is due in the next iteration of its search product, which has been code-named "Rome."
"Live Search is on a fall/spring release cycle, and we will gradually roll out updates at these intervals to improve the experience for both advertisers and consumers," the company said in a statement. "The recent updates you've noticed are part of the latest release, and we will continue to test and implement various features and functionality over the next couple of weeks."
In his comments in Japan, Gates pointed out that although Google has a high market share in search, it is also the kind of area in which Microsoft can use marketing to get people to try out its products, in due course.
He also played up the notion that Microsoft is an important counterweight to Google's position in the market saying, Microsoft wants to "make sure that state of the art does get advanced and advertisers have good choices in terms of what they are doing with their interactive advertising."