- 28 May 09, 17:04 GMT
Four rebrands in five years tell their own story.
From "MSN Search" to "Windows Live Search" to "Live Search" to "Bing" (by way of "Kumo"), Microsoft's expensive experiment in search reflects the insatiable appetite of chief executive Steve Ballmer to take on Google.
But Microsoft is playing smart and is likely to say that it is trying to compete not with Google, but with Yahoo, currently the number two search engine in the US.
The reason is clear: Microsoft is so far behind Google in search that, in many respects, it is not even in the same race.
While Google enjoys more than 64% of searches in the US, Microsoft trundles along with 8.2%. But Microsoft is at least notionally able to compete with Yahoo, which enjoys 20% of the market.
Microsoft has a history of "coming from behind". It did so with Microsoft Office and it did so with Internet Explorer. But in both cases, it was able to leverage its near monopoly as an operating system to win dominance in the long term.
But the web is a much more level playing field and Microsoft has found itself buffeted by an upstart that, 10 years ago, was being described by some as a novelty search engine.
So along comes Bing, promising more relevant search results and less wasteful clicking.
I was shown a non-live demo of the new search engine; as such, it's hard to form a sensible conclusion.
I can say that Bing is very aesthetically pleasing, and that its design feels intuitive and practical. It groups together relevant information quite well and could improve on the paradigm of searching that we have all become used to.
There are some concerns, however. Microsoft decides which associated and relevant information it will show you - based, in part, on partnerships with local content providers.
This may well be the best related information; it may well not. Who decides, and on what basis?
This is also a staged launch: first in the US, and then in other territories. And there's no dedicated mobile component. Bing feels like a work in progress - and it almost certainly is one. But will a service that is effectively a giant beta be enough to turn heads and to change users' learned behaviour?
Another issue is simple: inertia. Why would people stop using Google and start using Bing?
Microsoft says that 40% of search queries go unanswered. But if users were so dissatisfied with their search engine, we wouldn't see such dominance from one player. And of course, there are differing levels of need associated with queries - some of my searches are speculative because I don't know if the answer is definitely out there, while other are essential.
If the 40% of unanswered search queries are trivial queries, then who cares?
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