Microsoft’s Near-Term ‘Live Search’ Plans Revealed

Despite the announcement of its takeover bid for Yahoo, senior Microsoft executives exhorted employees in an internal Webcast last Friday to continue to push forward aggressively toward already-defined goals in the areas of search and online services.

That includes work on the next major release of Microsoft’s Live Search engine – codenamed “Rome” – which is scheduled for launch this spring, according to a transcript of the Webcast filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It also includes what execs term “Wave 3” of Microsoft’s Live-branded online services.

Microsoft held the Webcast to explain the proposed Yahoo deal to its nearly 80,000 employees.

The company rolled out its most recent release of Live Search in late September, and delivered Wave 2 of its Live services suite in early November.

Last fall, officials said Microsoft was planning to have a major release of Live Search approximately every six months, which means that Rome is close to being on time so far. While not on the same schedule, an updated set of Live services is also planned for later in the year.

“We are now in [the] vision phase for Windows Live Wave 3, working to get that out later this year [and] we are full speed ahead for this Rome release in the spring,” said Kevin Johnson, president of Microsoft’s Platforms & Services Division. He also said that work is going on meant to “reinvent” the company’s MSN Web portal.

However, executives, including chief software architect Ray Ozzie, who also addressed employees, gave no new details of what new capabilities Wave 3 Live services will provide or what changes are being made to Search and MSN.

Microsoft’s Live services initiative is a component of its larger software-plus-service strategy, which the company is betting will enable it to survive and flourish in an increasingly Web 2.0-based world economy.

Executives also gave a few clues as to what may happen if the Yahoo takeover is successful – such as consolidating the Yahoo and Microsoft search engines, and e-mail offerings.

“We’re really talking about how do we literally get more focused instead of having two search [engines], two ad platforms, focus, more innovation, drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, and really get important things done in the market,” CEO Steve Ballmer said.

The company’s executives did discuss some major changes that are likely on the horizon, however, if the takeover goes through.

“It doesn’t make sense to have thousands of engineers at Yahoo working on a search index, [and] thousands of engineers at Microsoft working on the same search index [so] by combining, we can have one team of people across the two companies working on the search index, and then have others continue to focus on areas where we’ve defined differentiation in search, new search verticals and expanded user experience for search,” Johnson added.

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