Microsoft executives like to say we're still in the early stages of the lucrative business of Internet search. They contend that as wide as Google's lead may seem now, it's not insurmountable. But for all of Microsoft's protestations, and the money it has pumped into building a better way to seek out information online, the world's largest software company continues to come up short in search. In May, for example, only 8.4% of all searches among U.S. Web surfers went through Microsoft's MSN or Windows Live engines, compared with Google's 56.3% share, according to research firm Nielsen//NetRatings (NTRT).

Microsoft isn't going to give up the fight any time soon. But the software giant is savvy enough to know that it may need to shift the battle to a different front. In recent months, Microsoft has been spending money to boost its efforts in what's known as vertical search, those niche markets where Netizens go when they're looking for specialized information.

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