Microsoft will be releasing Windows Live Academic Search shortly (I was recently told Wednesday; the blog buzz is saying tomorrow).
As is typical with such software projects, the team is doing some last minute tweaking before release. So, I won’t try to describe the system in any detail at this point, except to say that it integrates access to published articles with e-prints and other open access materials, it provides a reference export capability, there’s a cool optional two-pane view (short bibliographic information on the left; full bibliographic information and abstract on the right), and it supports search "macros" (user-written search programs).
What I will say is this: Microsoft made a real effort to get significant, honest input from the librarian and publisher communities during the development process. I know, because, now that the nondisclosure agreement has been lifted, I can say that I was one of the librarians who provided such input on an unpaid basis. I was very impressed by how carefully the development team listened to what we had to say, how sharp and energetic they were, how they really got the Web 2.0 concept, and how deeply committed they were to creating the best product possible. Having read Microserfs, I had a very different mental picture of Microsoft than the reality I encountered.
Needless to say, there were lively exchanges of views between librarians and publishers when open access issues were touched upon. My impression is that the team listened to both sides and tried to find the happy middle ground.
When it’s released, Windows Live Academic Search won’t be the perfect answer to your open access search engine dreams (what system is?), and Microsoft knows that there are missing pieces. But I think it will give Google Scholar a run for its money. I, for one, heartily welcome it, and I think it’s a good base to build upon, especially if Microsoft continues to solicit and seriously consider candid feedback from the library and publisher communities (and it appears that it will).