Microsoft is giving financial incentives to large enterprise customers whose employees use Microsoft's Live Search, in an apparent attempt to boost its poor web search market share.

The program is being tested with "a select number of enterprise customers based on the number of web search queries conducted by their employees via Live Search," said Microsoft.

In exchange Live Search usage, Microsoft is providing "service or training credits", the company said. The program also allows Microsoft to gather feedback on web search use in enterprises.

When asked what type of usage commitment companies must make, a spokesman for Microsoft declined to provide further details.

This is a shrewd move to boost Live Search by tapping loyal enterprise customers, but the strategy has its risks, said industry analyst Greg Sterling from Sterling Market Intelligence. Employees could resent being forced or encouraged by higher-ups to use a specific search engine, he said.

"Ultimately you have to compete at the product level. The product has to stand on its own merits. There's a fairly high risk this will not succeed at the grass-roots level, because they're using a top-to-bottom approach here," Sterling said. "I'm very sceptical of the long-term prospects for success at the level of the ordinary worker."

While Live Search is a good search engine, this program hints at anxiety and frustration on Microsoft's part, in wanting to use its wealth and muscle to improve its web search position, Sterling said. "It's a bit of the old Microsoft behaviour," he said.

News of this program comes a day after Microsoft said PC maker Lenovo will pre-load Windows Live services on its ThinkPad notebooks, ThinkCentre desktops and Lenovo-branded PCs.

Despite heavy investments in recent years, Microsoft hasn't been able to come close to Google in web search. Consequently, Microsoft hasn't capitalised as much as expected on the boom in search engine advertising, upon which Google has built its fortune.

In January, Google captured 47.5 percent of search engine queries in the US, compared with 10.6 percent for Microsoft. This week, Microsoft acknowledged that its highest-ranking search executive, Christopher Payne, corporate vice president of Windows Live Search, is leaving the company.

Microsoft confirmed the existence of the incentives-for-search programme after details leaked out Thursday afternoon. The news was first reported by publisher and author John Battelle, in his Searchblog website.

"As search evolves into more of a productivity tool, and revenue sharing becomes more commonplace across the industry, we are engaging in mutually beneficial partnerships such as this and our recently announced deal with Lenovo to more easily enable customers to choose Live Search," Microsoft said.