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In a move that may lend credence to rumors that Microsoft is increasingly focused on competing with Google, the company has made available a free, pre-release version of a new MSN Toolbar. The new offering serves up search and navigational features and is somewhat similar to the toolbars offered by both Google and Yahoo!

The pre-release version of MSN Toolbar is available online as of this week ( People who download it can also participate in a Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP), which lets users anonymously give feedback on the pre-release version.

MSN Toolbar is offered for free, and provides one-click access to several kinds of MSN services, including Hotmail, MSN Messenger, MSN Search and My MSN. Among the features included are: a customizable pop-up guard, designed to block pop-up windows during Web browsing sessions; and a highlight viewer, which lets you jump to search words within search results. There is also a drop-down menu feature which lets you jump to content from MSNBC, MSN Entertainment, financial information from MSN Money, product offerings from MSN Shopping, encyclopedia and dictionary tools from Encarta, and directories from MSN Yellow Pages and MSN White Pages.

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