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Bada-Bing

July 22, 2009

Dutch windmills: Fans of Bing

If there’s one thing that Microsoft will be remembered for in this decade it will not be Bing. It may, however, be for what Bing stands for; another example to add to their growing laundry list of markets they’re trying to play catch-up in. Perhaps the most famous example has been their Zune, which has sold about as many units as there are people in Houston, compared to all the iterations of Apple’s iPod line, which has sold about as many as there are people in America. Microsoft has had a few more profitable catch-up products, perhaps the Xbox 360 being the most impressive. It wasn’t a catch-up product in the strictest sense, seeing as the 360 came out nearly a full year before the Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii. Interestingly, though, it’s sold far less than the Wii, and really doesn’t have any of the innovative tech that either of its competitors do (Blu-Ray, motion control). The 360 also came out relatively soon after the original Xbox, which itself was a late addition to the sixth generation console war. So, it may have been a bit early to the party, but seemingly because Microsoft knew it wouldn’t have the market share it ended up having if it had been released closer to the Wii and the PS3. Much like many of Microsoft’s other products of this decade, there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re perfectly useable (and sometimes even enjoyable), but they’re nothing spectacular.

Rather like the copycat aspects of Windows 7 (have they heard of Leopard?), Microsoft Bing seems to have taken everything that makes Google the most useful search engine in 2009, and shoved it behind an ever-changing pretty picture. Bing is actually rather like Windows 7, in that it is a refined version of product designed to pull market share back in Microsoft’s favor. Vista had tons of problems, and Microsoft Live Search, Bing before it had a name that constantly reminds me of Friends, was just boring. The only reason it had any market share was because it was Internet Explorer’s default search engine, and some people just enjoyed pretty pictures while searching for things.

Bing has brought Microsoft back into the search engine battle. People who used Live Search because IE told them to will be very pleased with the new features, and people who loved its pictures will be happy to see they’re still there. I’m not really sure, though, in 2009, how many people are still going to search engines’ websites to search for things. Most browsers and sites have a search bar embedded into them, so much of the functionality of Bing’s website seems to be somewhat irrelevant. Perhaps this is why Google’s homepage is still basically as boring as it was in 1998, but why it’s added tons of features with each passing year. Bing, for the most part, can match all these features. It recently added live suggestions while you type (like Google), and related searches which appear on the left of the site. It’s also got maps, news, videos, images, travel, shopping, local and health information. There’s also a nifty little bar at the bottom of the page that shows the trending searches, rather like one can do with Twitter. Bing also stole that thing that Ask.com has where you can preview a website before going to it. I never really saw the point of that, seeing as sometimes it takes as long to load as the page itself would have, and if the page has a flash intro, it won’t load.

Now that I think about it, Bing may not sway too many people away from Google, seeing as it offers nothing more than Google does, but they’ll definitely snatch up a sizeable part of the Ask.com market. Bing has more than four pictures for its background, and it gives a more accurate search. This said, after about a month of using Bing, it was not what I was hoping. It most certainly is the Zune of search engines – it’s perfectly serviceable, but Google did it first, and keeps updating. I was hoping, when Bing was first announced, that we would be getting something like what Wolfram|Alpha claimed it was going to be. I want to be able to ask the Internet questions, and get actual answers. You can ask Bing some questions, like “What is the Capital of Germany?” and “What is the answer to life, the universe and everything?”, but most questions you ask it just result in a list of webpages that contain keyword hits, just like any other search engine. My desire for technology that makes me feel like we’re living in the future has not been quelled with Bing, nor has it even made me want to stop using Google. Perhaps in time, Microsoft will come up with a program that is truly innovative rather than just similar to its competitors – it’s not like they don’t have the funds for development – and when that happens, I’ll be more receptive.

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