Microsoft has launched a beta version of its academic search tool, a rival to Google's Scholar product.

Windows Live Academic Search will allow users to search academic journals and other scholarly publications, said Danielle Tiedt, general manager of Windows Live Premium Search for Microsoft.

The company had already confirmed the existence of the search service on its LiveSide blog two weeks ago.

An early tester of the service Dean Giustini, a medical librarian at the University of British Columbia, also said that the service would be available Tuesday in a blog entry he wrote after looking at the new service.

"Though its official worldwide launch is Tuesday April 11th, 2006, a group of librarians and information professionals ... were brought in to review Microsoft's Academic Search," he wrote in the UBC Google Scholar blog . "The librarians were asked to comment on the concept, look and functionality of the tool, one that is designed to go head-to-head with Google Scholar."

However, Giustini was less than impressed. "In short, I wasn't bowled over, but I wasn't disappointed either," he wrote. "Given the ... team has worked like demons for five months, they've come up with a useful tool. But it's only the start of what will likely be a protracted period of product development."

One missing element of Microsoft's tool is a feature of Google Scholar that enables users to search "cited" material, he said. In Google Scholar, users can search for material where a person's work is cited or where he or she is quoted in the text. This feature is an important one for academic researchers and librarians, Giustini said.

He said he suggested that Microsoft add this feature to the tool and members of the Academic Search team said they "were looking into it."

The new search tool also will enable users to view a complete academic journal article as long as they have a valid subscription to do so and purchase an article electronically using the British Library, among other features.

According to Microsoft's Tiedt, the initial release of Windows Live Academia Search will allow users to search for academic content in three subject areas: physical sciences, electrical engineering and computer sciences. Microsoft will add the ability to search for content in other subject areas over the next six months, at which point it's likely the company "will take the beta tag off" the search tool, she said.