Microsoft, still flush with search-tool cash after being scorned by Yahoo, has purchased natural-language search provider Powerset in a deal announced July 1st. According to the announcement on the LiveSearch blog, Powerset will join Microsoft's core Search Relevance team and remain intact in its current San Francisco office. You can give Powerset's technology a try here by using it to search Wikipedia.
Personally, I'm thrilled at the news. I don't like depending upon a single search provider, but currently many users (including me) would argue that Google blows away Live Search in exactly the area that Powerset's acquisition is designed to improve:
"adding understanding of the intent and meaning behind the words in searches and webpages"
The goal of the Powerset acquisition is to help Live Search move beyond merely matching up words in a search to matching the user's actual intentions. This is a skill that good reference librarians possess in abundance, and it's a vital feature for a good search engine.
Giving Google Serious Search Competition
This isn't Microsoft's only attempt to give Google a run for its money. The Live Search Cashback feature launched earlier this year is also providing a useful inroad, and the Silverlight browser add-on enables Live Search to provide a more appealing user interface. However, there's still a long way to go before Live Search catches up to Google.