Microsoft testing Kumo search engine internally

Based on technology from Powerset acquisition, Kumo likely to be an early version of a soon-to-be-rebranded Microsoft Live Search product

Microsoft has confirmed it is testing a new search engine called Kumo, based on technology from its Powerset acquisition, that is likely to be an early version of a soon-to-be-rebranded Live Search product.

"Microsoft is using the Kumo.com URL for internal testing purposes only," the company said via e-mail through its public relations firm Tuesday. "Given the depth and breadth of our current online service offering, we recognize a need to sharply define and align our online brands."

[ Images of Microsoft's search engine endeavor have leaked: "Sneak a peek at Microsoft's Kumo search" | For earlier Kumo news, see "Microsoft to merge Windows Live and Office Live" ]

Microsoft added that it has "nothing new to announce at this time." However, the company has been rumored for some time to be renaming its Live Search "Kumo" based on a December trademark application it made for the name and related URLs it has registered.

Though it would not specifically confirm this move, the company did say Tuesday that the Kumo engine being tested "shows a number of technologies in development and is a very early internal preview of directions we’re exploring" for its search engine.

"While the experience will improve significantly, we believe it is leading us in the direction of a next generation search engine built to meet customers' unmet needs -- an engine that delivers fast, organized and differentiated results that can help people make more informed decisions," Microsoft said.

That more or less describes the reasoning behind the acquisition of semantic search-engine provider Powerset last June. Powerset developed a technology that attempts to understand the full meanings of phrases people type in while searching, returning results based on that understanding.

Apparently, Powerset co-founder Barney Pell, who is now a Microsoft search strategist and evangelist, posted on his Twitter site that he was testing a soon-to-be rebranded Live Search pre-beta, according to the LiveSide.net blog, which posts news about Microsoft's search and online properties.

The Kumo trademark application and registered URLs suggest Microsoft may use the name for more than just its search engine.

According to the application, Microsoft wants to trademark Kumo for a host of software and services beyond a search engine, including advertising and telecommunications services, education, training, entertainment, and the design and development of computer hardware and services.

According to Whois.Net, Microsoft has registered the kumo.com domain, and through CSC, a company that manages domain names for corporations, also has registered related domains that indicate the Kumo name could be used for other services. Those domains include: www.kumosearch.com, www.kumopics.com, www.kumowiki.com, www.kumogroups.com, and www.kumotravel.com.

Kumo is a Japanese word that can be used to mean "cloud," "ceiling," or "sea spider," among other things, according to an online Japanese-to-English translation service.

The Windows Live and Live Search brands are fairly new in and of themselves. Microsoft only gave its online services the "Windows Live" moniker at the end of 2005, later dropping the "Windows" for its search engine but keeping it for other services and Web-based client applications.

Despite hundreds of millions of investment in its search strategy, Microsoft still remains a very distant third behind Google and Yahoo in search-engine usage and advertising revenue.

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