The only surprise is that it took so long!

Computer titan Microsoft - having sat on its hands for a couple of years while Google and Yahoo! spotted and exploited the (then) virgin market of internet search advertising - will today, Wednesday, remove the wraps from its me-too venture.

Microsoft ceo Steve Ballmer will unveil MSN AdCenter at an advertising conference held on the company's campus in Redmond, Washington. But although the technology will be on show, the real-world service is still in the early stages of gestation and unlikely to go live for six months.

When Microsoft does decide to press the button, it will be in just two test markets, France and Singapore. But late is better than never and the internet ad industry is only too happy to have a third string to its bow.

According to Chris Winfield, president of New York search marketing agency 10e21 Web Design: "Competition is fantastic. I'm hoping this will lower some of the costs per click. I can't see Microsoft charging as much as Google and Yahoo, at least not in the beginning."

Data sourced from USA Today Online; additional content by WARC staff