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Microsoft will do almost anything to shrink the Google gap. It will even pay people to use its search engine.

Today, as first leaked by Todd Bishop's ultra-famous Microsoft blog, Redmond unveiled a new site called "Live Search Cashback." If you use its Live Search engine to find and purchase certain products, Microsoft will refund between 2 and 30 per cent of the purchase price.

Ballmer and company have already signed up a long list of product-selling partners, including eBay, Overstock.com, Barnes & Noble, Sears, Home Depot, J&R Electronics, and Office Depot. In all, the program covers 10 million products from 700 sellers.

Last night, Bishop noticed that the Cashback site was already live. And Microsoft confirmed with The Reg that the new program got an official roll-out this morning at an online advertiser conference in Redmond, during a speech by lame duck chairman Bill Gates.

"Search, shop and save," the new Cashback site proclaims. "Now you can get cashback savings by using Live Search to find great deals on the products you want from the stores that you know and trust."

The site goes on to explain that web surfers must sign up for a Live Search Cashback account in order to use the service. They can then search through a catalog of cashback-happy product ads on the Live Search Cashback site or troll the main Live Search engine for ads tagged with a Cashback icon. Refunds will be paid via direct bank deposit, PayPal, or check.

These refunds come straight from Microsoft's product-selling partners. Each refund is equal to the ad fee forked over to Microsoft, and partners only pay if a sale is completed. So Redmond is making no money on this new breed of ad. At least for the moment.

Some might say this smacks of desperation. But we already knew Microsoft was desperate. It tried to pay $47bn for Yahoo!. And this isn't the first time it's made a shameless attempt to rig its Live Search traffic. Last summer, it did so - and did so successfully - with things called Chicktionary, Dingbats, and Seekadoo.

Plus, it's no secret that Bill and the gang have been mulling this cashback idea for years. Microsoft's press release can be found here.

According to the latest numbers from comScore - a company that tracks every online movement of two million people worldwide - Google controls nearly 60 per cent of the search market, and Microsoft owns less than 10. ®

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