Yesterday (2/8/06) Microsoft launched a new search engine and www.live.com.  The first thing I did was crank up a fresh instance of Opera 8.5, enable plugins, java and javascript temporarily, bypass proxomitron and then I’m off to http://www.live.com. the first thing I thought was that this site looked pretty lean to say the least.

All the page had on it was the logo, a text entry box, a button graphic, a blue background box with white text centered just under the text entry box with the text “Find anything using the new Windows Live Search!”, and a ‘loading’ graphic in page center. I looked at the page source and sure enough, there was code for a LOT more than what I was seeing.

I tried again after enableing ‘open javascript console on error’ and I was immediatly greeted with:

name: TypeError
message: Statement on line 2: Could not convert undefined or null to object

I found that I can enter queries but no results ever appear. At no time did the page have any other visible content.

Next up, I tried it in firefox 1.5. After setting the Noscript extension to permit the site to use scripts, The fully fleshed out site began to slowly appear. My first observation is that ‘live’ is one of the slowest loading pages I’ve seen since I changed from 56k dialup to 768/256 adsl.  The thing took nearly five minutes to load completely.

From my earlier look at the page source code, I saw that it was very heavily loaded with javascript components. This slowed it’s performance considerably. The Search results were equally slow in loading, and that little window that the results appear in in it absolutely blows chunks.  It only allows you to see three results at a time and instead of being a text box or IFrame with real scrollbars, it used some kind of javascript pseudo-scrollbars that are sluggish and unresponsive to say the least.

I took the time to do a few searches, and it does seem to do a reasonable job in strict terms of the search results, but its such a P.I.T.A. to use that not many are going to want to take the extra time and put out the additional effort required.

In my test searches, I found that my own http://peculiarplace.com/mixminion-message-sender/ ranked #5 for “windows mixminion” and #3 for “windows mixminion program”, which is great but what’s the point If I have all this trouble getting those results. As a search engine user I’m totally un-impressed. They need to lose the client side scripting and concentrate on something that works a heck of a lot faster and is interoperable with *ALL* browsers.

Microsoft’s claims that this ..er.. ‘thing’ is going to be ANY kind of threat to google is rediculous in the extreme. As it is right now, “bob’s hariy armpit search” would be more user friendly and faster.  Google, Yahoo and DogPile are lightyears beyond ‘live’. When it comes down to bare bones search engine results and overall user friendlyness, they’re in place. Their sites work in nearly every browser, are reasonably lightweight and fast loading.

Before anyone comes along and says that I should load it up in IE6 where it would probably work great. Yes, you could well be right. The problem is that Internet Explorer has been repeatedly shown to be a VERY insecure browser. It’s rendering engine has been broken by the inclusion of all those Microsoft specific, non-standard widgets. Active-X, which IE and pages optimized for IE tend to use a lot of, has been shown to be a bigger security hole than leaving Java enabled for all sites.  As a result the only use of IE6 that I make is for Windows Update and once in a while to test a web page’s appearance before I upload it.

Speaking of their html… I admit I’m not the best coder in the world.  In fact, I’ve actually written some of the worlds crappiest code, but I honestly believe that I’ve NEVER written anything nearly so screwed up as this is. Just for the heck of it, I ran it through w3c’ validator and got this result:

Doctype: XHTML 1.0 Strict
Result: Failed validation, 265 errors

Then I decided to have the validator try with some differnt doctypes to see if the code would pass under other, more relaxed standards. Nothing did… in fact, I think it’s a wonder this thing works in any broswer at all.

Doctype: XHTML Basic 1.0
Result: Failed validation, 271 errors

Doctype: XHTML 1.1
Result: Failed validation, 268 errors

Doctype: HTML 4.01 Strict
Result: Failed validation, 248 errors

Doctype: HTML 4.01 Transitional
Result: Failed validation, 238 errors

Doctype: HTML 3.2
Result: Failed validation, 246 errors

Doctype: ISO/IEC 15445:2000 (“ISO HTML”)
Result: Failed validation, 291 errors

If Microsoft would simply insist that the html on their pages was valid according to standards, then not only would the whole site be easier to use, but it would work in any web browser.  Speaking for myself, I really hate it when a site insists that I use the browser they dictate instead of the one that I happen to like.  Whatever happened to “The Customer is Always Right?”

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