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Microsoft has realized that efforts to rig its online search traffic can only go so far. After using bribes to boost queries on its Live Search engine, the Redmond outfit has decided that it's also a good idea to beef up the engine's architecture, announcing a brand new research center dedicated entirely to search and ad technologies. Set up under the aegis of Microsoft Research, the new Internet Services Research Center (ISRC) will "work closely with MSN and other product groups across the company."

“We’re building an even tighter bridge between researchers and product teams,” said Rick Rashid, who oversees Microsoft Research, the company's worldwide R&D operation. “The ISRC represents a new model for moving technologies quickly from research projects to improved products and services.” The new center will be lead by Harry Shum, former chief scientist of the Microsoft's search and advertising platform group.

The move comes after rumors that the company was building some sort of mega-search team in Google's backyard. The ISRC may have been the inspiration for these rumors, but according to a Microsoft spokesperson, the center will be based in Redmond. However, the company did acknowledge that there would be additional teams in "Silicon Valley" and China.

Where is the Windows Live Search group located? The company won't tell us. "With regards to the location of the Windows Live Search development," the spokesperson said. "We have no information to share." We're banking on Mountain View. It's easier to steal world-class search talent if you're in Mountain View.

According to the latest numbers from research firm comScore, Microsoft handles only 13.2 per cent of all web searches in the U.S., compared to Google's 45.5 per cent. Meanwhile, comScore competitor Nielsen/NetRatings puts Google's market share closer to 60 per cent - and rising. Microsoft has a mountain to climb, but it seems intent on climbing it.

At today's Microsoft analyst summit, CEO Steve Baller said that Microsoft was on its way to becoming an ad powerhouse - and a big part of that involves search.®

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