Microsoft building more Google-like, standards-compliant search page

Redmond (WA) - One of Microsoft’s so-called "Sandbox" projects, a "preview" of an online search service called "," appears to have shifted into high gear with the release of the third version of its home page.

The preview page presents a sampling of test services that require personalized selections, such as favorites and layout choices. But breaking with traditional Microsoft Web architecture - perhaps to the delight of privacy advocates - these services apparently do not transmit any personalization data to Microsoft servers, instead relying on a new client-side logic architecture based on AJAX, made popular by Google.

Sandbox projects such as are development tracks that Microsoft lets develop at their own pace, unassociated with any official marketing strategy. Nonetheless, does represent a vastly different development strategy for Microsoft, involving the use of Asynchronous JavaScript + XML (AJAX). Microsoft’s development toolkit for AJAX, called Atlas, was announced in late June. Conceivably, Atlas and AJAX could enable new Web services from Microsoft and other companies that expose local-level functionality through Web pages whose formats and XHTML structure would continue to be provided by remote servers.

According to an essay published last February by Web developer Jesse James Garrett, through his consulting service, Adaptive Path, a local session between your browser and AJAX could replace most of the more "janitorial" client/server transactions. "Every user action that normally would generate an HTTP request," Garrett writes, "takes the form of a JavaScript call to the Ajax engine instead. Any response to a user action that doesn’t require a trip back to the server - such as simple data validation, editing data in memory, and even some navigation - the engine handles on its own."

Fast-forward Atlas’ evolution another 24 months, and you could see what would once be categorized as Windows operating system services provided instead through MSN, complete with targeted advertising, but without direct disclosure of personal or otherwise private information with servers. Conceivably, searching your own system for MP3 or JPEG files in your future Vista virtual folder, could take place through a interface.

Google’s own experiments with AJAX include Google Suggest , which utilizes the familiar Google search box, but provides on-the-fly projections of potential hits for sound-alike and similar searches as you type. The AJAX environment launched by Google communicates with Google’s servers as you type. Privacy advocates will appreciate that AJAX can accomplish this ongoing communication without the use of cookies, which are the files servers use to maintain session state with client browsers, and which have been so often misappropriated for more malicious purposes.

One of’s intriguing test features is blog aggregation, which at first provides instantaneous links to blog posts from various sources, including Microsoft’s own engineers. Click the down-arrow next to the "start" logo, and under "Popular Feeds," you’ll find links to popular and selected blogs, whose headlines and entries pop up instantaneously in a side window. The service enables users to enter their own chosen XML feeds into a "My Feeds" list, providing yet one more example of merging local functions with a global service provider.

As a Firefox user myself, I couldn’t help but notice how quickly automatically pulled up blog entries that mentioned Firefox. even includes this message, which is unusual from any division of Microsoft : "rest assured we haven’t abandoned our firefox [sic] users and are working on the issues continuously."

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