Using Live.com as a Search Page
I have always felt there is a fundamental distinction between a 'search page' and a 'home page'. A search page should be very fast, have a prominent search box and no other content to distract me from doing my search. A home page, on the other hand, should have all the various pieces of content I want at a glance, like my stock quotes, weather, news feeds and blogs I like to read, and so on.
Now live.com, since its inception, has functioned as a great home page for me. I sure would like it to load faster (and I know the live.com team has performance as one of their top goals right now), but I am quite happy with the way I can personalize it to include the content that I want and the gadgets that I like. It is the page I visit to view all the information I need at a glance, atleast a couple times a day.
However, my pet gripe was that it didn't really function as a 'search page'. It isn't fast enough to load, and the last thing I want to see when I am just about to search for something is that one of my stocks just tanked. Seeing all that content is very distracting while performing a search, and sometimes one forgets what they were planning to look for!
Now, live.com has always had a 'switch' to turn it into a search page. It is the 'hide' link on the top right hand corner, below the 'sign in/sign out' link. If you click 'hide', all your content is hidden and all of a sudden you have a clean page with just a search box at the top. Perfect! However, there were a couple of problems with it - (1) it appeared to me (I may be wrong here) that all my feeds still loaded even when hidden and the search box didn't seem to be ready to type into till everything was loaded, and (2), the 'hide' setting didn't stick in an intuitive way.
Well, the good news is that this is fixed in the recent live.com update! Now there is a setting called 'always start with pages hidden' which is extremely handy if you want live.com to be a clean search page by default, and only view the gadgets/feeds by clicking the 'show' link. The page also loads very fast now in this mode, since gadgets/feeds no longer load up in the background.
I guess that fixes the search page versus home page issue. But you may find live.com as a home page too to be unacceptably slow to load. Well, as I mentioned earlier, the live.com team is hard at work to improve page load performance - it is their top goal right now. For now, though, you can use the option of having multiple pages to improve performance - for example, move the bulk of your slow loading feeds and gadgets to a secondary page, and keep only a few on the main page.
Anyway, turns out I haven't really felt the need to visit a 'search page' in a long time. All the major search services provide toolbars with search boxes that you can type your query into directly (you can try a beta version of the Windows Live Toolbar here). Browsers like Firefox and IE7 have search boxes by default. As these become more mainstream, the concept of a 'search page' may become irrelevant. Going forward, I think search will be perceived more as a service than a webpage.