Microsoft is giving financial incentives to large businesses whose employees use itss Live Search engine, in an apparent attempt to increase the firm's disappointing 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," Microsoft said in a statement provided via email through the Waggener Edstrom public relations agency last night.

In exchange for their employees' Live Search usage, Microsoft is providing "service or training credits" to these enterprise customers, the company said. The program also allows the vendor to gather feedback from these users regarding web search use in an enterprise, Microsoft said.

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

News of this programme comes soon after Microsoft announced another initiative to promote use of its Live family of online services, including Live Search. On Wednesday, Microsoft said computer maker Lenovo will pre-load Windows Live services on its ThinkPad notebooks, ThinkCentre desktops and Lenovo-branded PCs.

Despite heavy investments and efforts in recent years, Microsoft hasn't been able to come close to rival 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 increasing revenue and profit.

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, Windows Live Search corporate vice-president Christopher Payne, is leaving the company.

Microsoft confirmed the existence of the incentives-for-search program after details leaked out yesterday afternoon. The news was first reported by technology publisher and author John Battelle in his Searchblog website, where he discusses internet search issues.

"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's statement said.