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Microsoft is gearing up to launch a new online book search service enabling internet users to find content from books, periodicals and other print resources.

The digital archive, which is due to go live on Thursday, will include books from the British Library, the University of California and the University of Toronto. Other institutions including the New York Public Library and Cornell University expected to come on board in the near future.

The new service will compete with Google's Book Search offering which was launched in 2005. That service has run into controversy due to the search engine giant's scanning of content, some of which may still be copyrighted. Last year, a number of organisations including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Authors Guild initiated a lawsuit against the firm over its service.

Microsoft seems to be taking a more publisher-friendly route however. The company is only offering access to non-copyrighted works initially, although it is believed that in the future it intends to include copyright works that publishers have given permission to use. As with Google's Book Search service, out-of-copyright books will be available to download for free as PDF files.

The Redmond-based behemoth first announced its intention to launch a book search service in October 2005. At that time, the firm said that it was also to become a member of the Open Content Alliance (OCA), a group of cultural, technology, non-profit, and governmental organisations which is working to build a permanent archive of multilingual digitised text and multimedia content.

"We are committed to working with various institutions to combine our technology and software innovation to deliver rich, treasured content that is not broadly available today," said Christopher Payne, corporate vice president of MSN Search.

"By combining our deep software investments in advanced reading technologies, productivity and community-based applications - such as MSN Messenger, and new capabilities in the Windows platform will combine to make a powerful book search experience that will help people access new information and interact with it in entirely new ways," added Payne.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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