Thursday, June 4, 2009

Microsoft Bing VS Google

When you're done reading this, go to and type in the word "bing." Next, go to, Microsoft Corp.'s new search service, and type in "google."

You'll see quite a difference - enough to suggest that Microsoft has made serious improvements over Live Search, its proprietary Internet search engine. Not sufficiently serious to catch up with Google. But Bing is good enough to make the Google-Microsoft contest truly interesting.

Google turns up plenty of good stuff in its Bing search, including a link to the Bing site and the latest news headlines about the new service. But you also get links to a surfboard company, an energy drink, and a video of Bing Crosby singing a duet with David Bowie.

Ask Bing about Google, and you get all things Google. Crammed into a single compact page, you get links to popular Google features, and a window that lets you run Google searches. But there's more. On the left, find links to download Google software or read its corporate documents. On the right, get links to competing Internet companies - Yahoo, MySpace, AOL. If you want other web pages that mention Google, click a link at the bottom of the page. More Google references appear instantly, without having to load a new page.

It's an instant brain dump; quick links to nearly everything the typical searcher might want to know, with easy access to deeper content. That's exactly the sort of thing Microsoft has vowed to deliver with Bing. Less searching and more finding.

Say you want the latest weather or traffic data. Google will tell you where to get it. Bing will just give it to you. It uses your computer's Internet address to guesstimate your location within a few miles, and up pops your local weather or traffic.

Bing's video and image searches don't force you to click through page after page of results. They all appear on a single page. Just scroll down to see more. And with videos, just hover the mouse pointer over each thumbnail image, and Bing plays a preview, to confirm it's the one you're looking for.

Sports buffs are in for a thrill. Type in the name of Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. Google will give you lots of relevant pages, and so will Bing. But Bing leads off with Varitek's statistics from both his last three games and for the season so far.

The engineers who created Bing must love to shop, because they've put a lot of work into a smart new method of rating products. There's no more of this four-star, five-star stuff. Instead, Bing breaks down shopper opinions into multiple categories. Search for TVs, and you can get ratings for picture quality, sound quality, affordability, and the like.

Bing's computers generate the ratings by reading each review and analyzing its contents. If several people say that a new TV has a great picture but mediocre sound, the set might get a 100 percent picture quality rating, but just 70 percent for audio. You can read the actual reviews for more detailed information; a good idea, because I found some cases where Bing misinterpreted a reviewer's comments. But on the whole, Bing's rating system should provide better insights for online shoppers.

All in all, a good job by Microsoft. But is Bing good enough to challenge Google's dominance in search? Not nearly. Google draws nearly two-thirds of all US web searches; Microsoft gets a pitiful 8 percent.

Besides, Google's own engineers haven't been idle. Without much fuss, the site last month added a host of new search tools. To use them, run any old Google search, then look to the left of the screen, above the results. You'll see a link that reads "Show options." Give it a click, and prepare for a deep dive into whatever topic you're researching.

You can easily search comments posted by Internet users on thousands of online forums. Want to know if the new Star Trek movie is suitable for kids? Here you can get the opinions of typical parents.

Another excellent feature generates a timeline on any subject, using data culled from dozens of websites. Say you're researching the life of Italian astronomer Galileo. Up comes a listing of important dates - Galileo's birth in 1564, his 1633 showdown with the Vatican, his death in 1642, all displayed with a click.

There are lots more new features on tap; check them out for yourself. You do use Google, right? And you'll probably keep right on using it. Good as it is, Bing's not compelling enough to break most people of their Google habit.

Then again, Yahoo, with about 20 percent of the search market, has fallen on hard times, and is in talks with Microsoft about an alliance. Last year, Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo outright for $47.5 billion, but the deal fell through. Now Yahoo has a new chief executive Carol Bartz, who says she's willing.

On its own, Bing probably can't muster more than 10 or 15 percent of the search market, despite its strengths. But slap a Yahoo logo onto Microsoft's brainy new upgrade, and Google would have something to worry about for the first time in years.
(By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff)
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