Microsoft is planning to introduce its long-awaited Internet search engine today, a person knowledgeable about the announcement said.
Word of the introduction of the service, which will compete with Google and Yahoo, was leaked on Tuesday after the company began phoning reporters offering briefings for yesterday. A company spokeswoman declined comment on the announcement.
Internet search-engine advertising has become a hotly contested market in recent years and Microsoft has been rushing to catch up by bringing a competitive offering to market.
Microsoft will stress the size and completeness of its service, according to several people with knowledge of the announcement.
Currently Google, the largest search engine, indexes about 4 billion Web pages, 880 million images and 845 million Usenet messages. The service is used by almost 82 million people each month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
Microsoft has been pursuing a Web portal strategy with its MSN service with little success. And, like Yahoo, Microsoft has been attempting to muscle in on Google's strong revenue growth.
Google more than doubled its revenue and profit in its first quarter after its initial public offering, underscoring how rapidly the market for online advertising has been swelling.
"I think Microsoft is a couple of years from doing anything serious, but it's a reminder that the big bad evil beast is out there," said John Tinker, an analyst who covers Google for ThinkEquity Partners, an investment bank in San Francisco.
Microsoft has been demonstrating Web search technologies since summer last year, when the head of the company's research effort, Richard Rashid, gave a demonstration of the company's technology at its Silicon Valley campus.
More recently, the company has been posting technology tests at sandbox.msn.com. The site includes a search demonstration, a tool for searching locally stored electronic mail, a tool for searching news and other services.
Industry speculation has been widespread that Microsoft will try to compete with Google by integrating Internet search into the desktop of its Windows operating system. However, the company's new Longhorn operating system, which has focused on search technology, has been delayed and there is no public date for its introduction. Meanwhile Google has been moving quickly to offer services that compete directly and indirectly with Microsoft.