Microsoft's MSN Internet division has developed a search toolbar that users can add to their web browsers via a free download.
The MSN Toolbar's main feature is its search form, from which users can perform web searches. It also provides shortcuts to MSN services, such as Hotmail, the MSN Messenger and the My MSN customisable home page for the MSN web portal.
The MSN Toolbar can also be configured to block web pop-up ads. Users who choose to turn on the pop-up blocker can tweak it to allow certain ads to be displayed. The toolbar also features a highlight viewer, which highlights search term in pages that are retrieved after running a query from the search form.
The toolbar, which is in beta mode now, sits underneath the browser's address bar, and is similar to competing toolbars from rivals Google and Yahoo, which also have pop-up blocker and keyword highlighting features.
Once installed, the toolbar will be updated automatically by Microsoft without the need for further downloads.
Search toolbars have become very popular tools for internet users because they enhance the web navigation experience by eliminating clicks for searching and by creating permanent buttons in the browser for frequently used services and sites, said Yankee Group analyst Patrick Mahoney.
"From a branding and marketing perspective, it's extremely valuable for the provider," he added.
Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service