The minimalist MSN search box includes links for Web, News, Images, Desktop, and Encarta searches; click the pull-down menu next to the Search button, and you'll find additional searches for stock quotes, movies, shopping, and music. Just to the right of the Search form is a Near Me button, which you can click to find results near your city (but not your specific street address).
MSN's Web search results did a good job of separating sponsored results from our actual search hits, confining the paid listings to shaded boxes and columns with smaller fonts; however, the number of results returned was still less than for similar queries performed on Google or Yahoo. MSN does let you see cached pages (great for checking older content on a frequently updated Web page) as well as links to related sites. Some of our MSN searches included special sections up on top with news and related links, although nothing as elaborate as AOL Search's Spotlight or Ask Jeeves's Smart Search boxes. Images searches returned thumbnails with dimensions and files sizes, and MSN allows you to sort the images by size or by whether they're in color or black and white. Movie queries tap into MSN Movies (which includes movie posters, descriptions, links to trailers, and local showtimes), while Encarta searches use MSN's paid Encarta encyclopedia service. By the same token, shopping searches send you to MSN's shopping site, while music searches let you browse MSN's library of pay-per-download music. Missing from MSN Search are video and people searches, as well as detailed local searches with maps and driving directions (which, strangely enough, you can find on the main MSN portal, but not through MSN Search).
MSN offers a robust downloadable toolbar that features a pop-up blocker and a nifty highlight viewer that lets you quickly scan long Web pages by highlighting your search terms. The toolbar also includes an IE-only desktop search tool that will index all the files and e-mail on your PC. However, neither the toolbar nor the MSN Search portal will save or track your search history. The MSN help section provides cursory descriptions--with a few search