Microsoft has launched an online library in a move to compete against Google's controversial project to digitize the world's books. Consumers benefit any time when two industry giants meet in head-to-head competition. In this case, genealogists will benefit as they have even more free genealogy and local history books to search.
Microsoft launched a U.S. test version of Live Search Books a few weeks ago. The new service already has tens of thousands of out-of-copyright books, including works held by the British library and major universities in the United States and Canada.
I checked Live Search Books and found several hundred genealogy books are already available, although not nearly as many as are available at Google Books. The several pages from the Microsoft site that I displayed on my computer all seemed to be crystal-clear and easily readable. I was also able to download and save entire books as PDF files.
The search page on Microsoft's Live Search Books is simple and uncluttered. However, the search results are not nearly as accurate as that of Google Books. A search on "Eastman genealogy" on Google produces a long list of genealogy books that contain the name "Eastman" somewhere within the pages of each book. The same search on Microsoft's Live Search Books seems to produce a list of books with either word alone. In other words, it finds many genealogy books that do not contain the word "Eastman" as well as many books that do mention that name but do not have the word "genealogy" anywhere between the covers.
Even with this limitation, Live Search Books is a good service for genealogists. Keep in mind that its limited search capabilities may limit its effectiveness for anyone searching for surnames that are also common English words, such as Green, Black, or Town.
Microsoft has book-scanning partnerships with New York Public Library, the American Museum of Veterinary Medicine, the University of California system, and the University of Toronto, according to Microsoft project director Cliff Guren.
Live Search Books "was created with copyright laws in mind," according to Guren. "It is focused on scanning and indexing out-of-copyright books or books where we have the express written consent of the copyright holder to scan them."
You can search and read genealogy and local history books right now on Microsoft's Live Search Books at http://books.live.com.