Darren Waters

Microsoft's bada Bing

  • Darren Waters
  • 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?


  • Comment number 1.

    Ignoring the technical capabilities of the "new" search, and this rather dubious idea of businesses/content providers deciding what is deemed "relevant", I do have to wonder who came up with the new name?

    People talk about "googling" for data. I can't see people ever saying "Lets Bing it".

    OK I know that the name is not that important and that if the data that returns is accurate and useful then the name becomes less important. But Bing? Sorry, it just doesn't do it for me.

  • Comment number 2.

    I doubt that many casual web users could name three search engines, far less navigate to them. Google has inertia partly because its reputation for being the best is (rightly or wrongly) now so strong that I imagine most adult computer classes, or friends and family, introducing the web to someone new simply say "use Google".

    Microsoft 'won' the early browser wars simply because it bundled IE for free with Windows. As you rightly say the Web is now a more level playing field; a 'Google killer' would have to be something revolutionary, and I just can't see Microsoft coming up with that.
    I suspect that Microsoft is going to be squeezed by Open Office too.

  • Comment number 3.

    The name 'Bing'?
    After Bing Crosby? Like that will attract young users - Not!
    After 'Bada Bing' - a strip club! - from The Sopranos.

    'Bing'? - Microsoft has really lost the plot on this one.

    And what I really dislike about Microsoft nowadays is having to install more Microsoft products onto whatever they offer, just to make it work.
    I noticed that even on their 'Bing' demo site you have to install 'Silverlight' (whatever that is?) just to see the demo. (I didn't bother.)

    Still, it's yet more competition; it may even make Google add some more of its 'beta' products into its main service.

  • Comment number 4.

    Bing? More like Blip...Sulking just cus' they can't have Yahoo. Good.

    "...a history of coming from behind.."

    Hmmmm...I'll let others to try their 'moderation luck' with that comment...Have fun!

    ***Thanks Linus for saving us from Windows! Linux IS the best.***

  • Comment number 5.


    "I'll let others" should be "I'll leave others".


  • Comment number 6.

    I think microsoft, especially on the web, is a tainted brand, I already roll my eyes when I hear about a new product from them.

    What really surprises me is that almost 1 in 10 people actually would use the dogs breakfast that is Live search, or any MSN thing. I don't think I know anyone who wouldn't go straight to google when trying to find some information.

    Maybe bing is good, but I certainly am not getting my hopes up, seeing microsoft's constant failure to understand the internet.

    This is at the very least 5 years late from them.

  • Comment number 7.

    Sure Microsoft's Internet Explorer overturned Netscape - but that was because
    1) it was cheaper (free) to all users
    2) they bundled it with Windows - so every Windows user has it installed.

    Any user would therefore need a pretty good reason not to use Internet Explorer. It wasn't until the advent of Firefox, combined with well publicised security holes in Internet Explorer that someone began to eat into Internet Explorer's lead - but IE still reigns supreme in terms of usage.

    With respect to search Microsoft finds itself in the same situation as those competing with Internet Explorer - Google is free to use, easily available to all, and most users are quite happy with it. So how to convince people to switch?

    Microsoft first has to convince satisfied Google users that Google isn't delivering, and then convince them that Microsoft can offer something better. I think they'll struggle on both points.

  • Comment number 8.

    Naming aside M$ are trying to corner an already cornered market.

    And I don't know about anyone else here, and perhaps my google-fu is weak, but most of the time when I'm searching on google for something all I get are results that lead to sites selling stuff. Either that or they are "search sites".

    Personally I'm sick and tired of the commercialisation of the web, it's got so that you have to wade through the commercial rubbish before you even hit any information that's worth looking at.

    I don't think this new "bing" from M$ will be any different.

  • Comment number 9.

    40% failure rate wouldn't get a new hiree through his probationary period. I think they're well past 90 days.

  • Comment number 10.

    This is good for everyone - including Google. Competition drives innovation, and even if few people actually switch to "Bing" it will force Google to keep on its toes and not get too complacent in its position of power. Bing's method of categorising the results, while not exactly unique, is clean and well implemented. Google should, and more than likely will, take note of this and other features.

    The worst case scenario for everyone is that it becomes accepted that Google is the de facto "Homepage of the Web" and everyone ceases competing with them. It may seem like screaming into a hurricane, but we need the Wolfram Alpha's of this world to force Google into adapting, and if they don't, their crown is there to be usurped.

    On a slightly different topic, it always makes me smile that whenever one of these blogs mention Microsoft there is an inevitable spate of Microsoft-bashing, essentially regurgitating the same old lines that have been around for the last 20 years. It's perpetually "uncool" to praise Microsoft. So in the interest of fairness... I suspect there are a frighteningly high number of businesses and commercial organisations around the world that are powered by Microsoft, from the business Office software (ever been in a company that didnt rely heavily on Excel?) to the back-end server software, development environments, active directories and database systems that (for the most part) Microsoft do very well. It may all be below the radar of the average non-techie, but they are effectively the engine of modern industry. Let's also not forget that their dominance in both the desktop and browser markets created a standard platform in the 1990's which opened up the Web to millions of users. It went from being a shadowy land of the Geek to something engrained in popular culture. It's probably not an exaggeration to say that, for better or worse, without Microsoft you wouldn't be on this website reading my rant now. Credit where it's due.

  • Comment number 11.

    Most people have missed the big story here.

    Microsoft have chosen to align themselves with commercial partners in order to serve what they think is relevant to users.

    Google is committed to make all of the worlds information universally accessible.

    There is the difference between the two companies, Microsoft will be serving up content which makes them and their partners money, whereas it is in Google's interest to strive to bring you the most relevant search results because it is only then that it's advertising model works.

    No doubt Bings top results will be something that makes all interested parties the most money (at the expense of the searcher) Whereas Google's top results need to be what searchers find the most useful, and then rely on their ability to match ads to the results... if the results were wrong then people would leave the search page without having chance to click on their ads.

    What Google does need to get better at is understanding search terms, because a well structured search term always brings good results to myself, but my Mum's experience is somewhat different as her search terms are somewhat less well structured than mine.

  • Comment number 12.

    '"Google haven't been able to innovate a lot of the UI (user interface) because they have to display their ads as that's how they make their revenue. We can try things a bit differently," said Mr Stoddart.'

    'Microsoft has a history of "coming from behind"'

    So how will they make money from Bing then?

    Would that be their traditional model of cross-subsidisation from their only profitable business usits (Windows and Office), haemoraging money from their near unlimited reserves until the competition bleeds to death? Sorry, won't work with web search as its a lot harder to use their usual illegal monopolistic practices to kill off the opposition.

    Or will the money come from giving preference to their 'business partners' at the expense of possibly more relevant results? Sorry, that won't work either, the users will quickly wise up to that.

  • Comment number 13.


    Brilliant name Microsoft!

  • Comment number 14.


    "...without Microsoft you wouldn't be on this website reading my rant now."

    Yes I would.Yes I am.I hope you enjoyed my rant on another blog, thanks to my Linux based hub.UNIX is the foundation of the the Internet.NOT MSWindows.

    "The worst case scenario is....that Google is the [steadfast :-)] 'Homepage of the Web'"

    *NO*. Microsoft becoming a 'de facto regime' in any area of computing is the worst case scenario. Just look at Windows.

    I would rather have my search engine report 'Google spam' than 'Microsoft $pam'.

    Everyone's in it for the money, including those who develop Linux based OSs. But Microsoft patronizes the consumer without giving choice or reason.

    I'll give credit where it's due.SoftICE is a great Windows debugger. Thank you Ctrl+D

  • Comment number 15.

    Bing is obviously quoting the film groundhog day!

  • Comment number 16.

    The fact is, without Windows as competition, Mac OS would still be the single user, cooperative multitasking pile of slowness it was 9 years ago. Linux probably wouldn't have a GUI front, and PCs and laptops would not be commonplace as they are today. Microsoft made PCs everyone, not just academics and film studios.

    Yes they've done some "bad" things, with respect to Java in particular. That's business. If you don't like capitalism, go and live in Cuba.

    If you go back to the browser wars of 1999, you can't get away from the fact, IE4/IE5 were much much better than the equivalent Netscape browser, Windows 98 was a lot better than Mac OS, and had (still has) better support for hardware, and easier to use than Linux.

    I remember installing RedHat 4 compared to installing Windows 98, and Windows 98 may have been was plug and pray, but RedHat 4 was pray and resuscitate, pray again.

    I hope Bing is really good. As of now, nothing beats Google for finding help to technical queries, and programming problems. It is plagued by spam sites, sites that just mirror other sites with their ads round the side. Competition is a good thing.

  • Comment number 17.


    "Linux probably wouldn't have a GUI front..."

    Yes it would. Xerox devloped the GUI interface in the early 1970's under a UNIX OS.Long before any other OS got a foot-hold.
    "Microsoft made PCs [accessible to?] everyone,not just academics and film studios"

    Hmmmm.....At no point can I recollect Microsoft proclaiming "free software to the masses".(Sorry, that's my Cuban blood-:)
    "...IE4/IE5 were much much better than....Netscape browser..."

    Again *NO*. Even if IE4/5 did interpret html data better than Netscape, IE is running on a rubbish OS.

    I well remember the 'segmentation fault' blue screen, and the 'this application has to shut down (for no reason)' messages.

    "Competition is a good thing."

    I agree. That's why I don't like Microsoft.

  • Comment number 18.

    I wrote..."Xerox developed the GUI...under UNIX.."

    OK..I know.Talking through my fat head etc....

    Praise for Microsoft makes my blood boil.Arghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

  • Comment number 19.

    The technology looks very good, and original.

    However the there is absolutely no reason to change the name from Live Search.

    Quite a lot of people I have seen discussing Bing, think the name is hilariously bad.

    and I am inclined to agree. It is the worst name I have ever heard in my life.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am very disappointed by many of the posts here. Microsoft has made mistakes in the past but does not deserve the senseless bashing. Microsoft has worked hard to focus on innovation - spurred by competition, and that effort is commendable. I really liked the Windows 7 beta version that I installed and Live Search now "Bing" is fantastic. Google has raised the bar high which is great for competition and innovation. Microsoft set the bar high with Windows and its Applications. Neither company is "bad" or "evil". Let's stop using petty words and focus on how the world has changed for better thanks to technology companies like Microsoft Google, Yahoo, Cisco, Intel and others.

  • Comment number 21.

    Who cares about Microsoft... anyone used the product and compared it with other search engine results? I have and and unsurprisingly it is exactly the same as Live Search but with furry animals in the background.

    I have compared its search queries against Googles and Yahoo's and I'd rank Bing (Live Search) 3rd.

    However I do prefer Bing's video search over the other two especially its layout and menu options. I also like the little feature of hovering the mouse pointer over a video start to preview the clip. Far better than Googles effort.

    The same goes for the image searches, nice clean layout, design (just like Live Search) and presentation.

    The big thing I don't like about Bing is the search query results. They are just plain bad a lot of the time. Its really bad when comparing against Google because Google have spent a great deal of time and a great deal of money mastering and improving search query results and indexing. I think it shows.

    Bing (Live Maps) is very, very slow and doesn't work with Opera and I am not going to be changing my browser for that. Whilst Google's is just a breeze to work with and does exactly what you want. They also spent a lot of time and money on this and it shows to.

    I think Microsoft should stop thinking about the competition and making money and concentrate on making the basics better and right. I would use it more if I did not think their query results were bad or markedly tainted in some way.

  • Comment number 22.

    How about a mention for the really innovative stuff from Wolfram Alpha or Google Squared? Both are so much more than just rebranding exercises...

    After all this is meant to be technology news, not marketing news.

  • Comment number 23.

    Bing? never heard of it .. I shall google it now ...

  • Comment number 24.

    I think it will grow up because now only they are provide content free search engine but dont compare with google.

  • Comment number 25.

    I am an Google fan. Out of curiosity, I tried (being as non-biased as possible) Microsoft's new Bing (and bias aside; I agree with other posters - this name is really awful) search service to see how it fared. At first, everything looks fine (apart from the rather cheesy picture of whales - as seen in the UK version). The search was relatively quick - which I would expect. The results faired fine; no quibble there (I stress that nothing gave me a groundbreaking experience enough to want to suddenly become a Binger! - man that sounds terrible).

    When Bing showed me the results to the search I was stunned; it is like looking at a Google reslts page. The layout is identical apart from some minor colour differences.. Shocking. I can't imagine why Google has not condemned this. As far as layout copying goes, Microsoft nailed it with this site!

    The top left screen on Bing
    Web Images Videos Shopping News Maps More
    The top left screen on Google
    Web Images Videos Maps News Shopping Mail More - Similar font, same separating line below. Surely this constitutes a breach of trademark or something???

    Top Right..
    Sign in Extras Vs Sign in

    Bing Logo Vs Google Logo - same location, followed by search bar

    Show all Show only in United Kingdom Vs Search the web Search pages from UK - same position

    The results listed same as Google, with links / options to the left of the results.

    Sponsored Sites Vs Sponsored Links - same location

    No. of results returned - same location and format, only slightly to the left in Bing

    Secondary search bar at bottom of page - same

    I swear, there must be a website template somewhere (like those you find on domain selling sites) - 'the search engine builder' that represents the ideal search engine. Microsoft found this template. Microsoft used this template.
    Turns out.... the template is Google....

  • Comment number 26.

    I am in the field of Search Engines myself and have taken keen interest in Bing! I have a feeling that Bing has the opportunity to become more popular than Google, there are a few niggly problems with it however including the usabilty.

    I have written my own blog post on Bing and it would be great if people could share their experience either here or on my blog :)


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