Microsoft is rolling out services to challenge Google. I’m underwhelmed by every single bit of it so far.

Yesterday’s presentation, described in this article, summarizes some of the initiatives. MSN is going to sponsor a toolbar – presumably integrated into Outlook and Internet Explorer – that will allow lightning-fast searches through Outlook folders, local and network files, and the Internet. That sounds swell – although offhand, I can’t think of anything I’ve ever looked for where I wanted results both from my local store of information and from online. It’s always been one or the other. Maybe that will change. Hmm.

And what are MSN’s other projects? “Orchestrated advertising,” a new music service, a new MSN homepage, and “new forms of targeted advertising.” Yawn. Now granted, the article describes a presentation to financial analysts, so perhaps in that context it made sense to boast of not one but two new methods of putting advertisements on our screens.

You can see some of the other MSN projects on this page. MSN is building an engine for web searches to compete with Google; perhaps there will be an important difference that makes MSN’s search results more accurate or comprehensive, although it’s a bit hard to imagine. If you use the preview online now, it’s visually less appealing than Google.

MSN is also rolling out a news page similar to Google News, aggregating content from many different sources. You can sample the MSN Newsbot page here. Again, maybe the content will be more carefully chosen, but at the moment Google’s visual presentation onscreen is far better.

The MSN toolbar is on the MSN preview page as well, which is a good example of the bigger issue that distinguishes Google’s projects from its competitors. 

When you install the Google toolbar, you get a useful toolbar and popup blocker, and Google becomes your default search engine in Internet Explorer. That’s all.

When you install the MSN toolbar or the Yahoo toolbar, you get a useful toolbar and popup blocker – and you get a new home page in Internet Explorer. And you get a window that pops up when you go online. And you get extra buttons on the toolbar to start Hotmail and MSN Messenger and a customized “My MSN” home page, or Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Calendar and Yahoo games.

In other words, MSN and Yahoo are both prone to clutter and advertising and changes to my computer that I don’t want. So far, Google’s stripped-down approach is still the clear winner.

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