Microsoft to launch new MSN Toolbar beta – Powered by Silverlight

Later today we should see the reincarnation of MSN Toolbar in beta form (codename Salsa). Like many older MSN products, it migrated over to the new Windows Live brand early 2007, however as part of the gradual drift back, its been revamped with a new look.

So what’s new apart from the Vista styled UI? Well perhaps the biggest thing is that the toolbar is powered by Silverlight, which adds an extra dimension to the features on offer. This enables the drop-down MSN chanel previews, showing the latest content from within the MSN portal without requiring the user to move from the internet page they are currently browsing. From the same preview pane users can also chose to search that part of the site, which brings us onto the 2nd main feature – Live Search.

Although web search and toolbars have gone hand in hand for as long as I can remember, the new MSN Toolbar beta adds a few twists. Firstly, and definitely most controversially, when you perform a search query on another search engine, the toolbar search box will auto-populate itself should you wish to view results from Live Search. This seems like a bit of a grey area in terms of user privacy, so I’m sure we’ll inevitably hear complaints about it soon enough. As mentioned above, the toolbar also allows users to tailor their search to specific MSN channels using the preview panes.

Finally there’s a breaking news feature, bringing the latest news direct to your browser. At the end of the day though, a toolbar is a toolbar, so there’s not a huge amount to get excited about – what is exciting is seeing just how much Silverlight could be used for. Of course there is the added bonus for Microsoft in that requiring users to install Silverlight for core products such as this will increase penetration into the mass-market. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Users who want to participate in the managed beta on Connect will be able to sign up soon through the Available Connections page. The toolbar homepage is also up, however there is no download available yet.

Update: The beta is now accepting signups, looks like there won’t be a public beta immediately.