Heard of Bing yet? If not, you soon will. Backed by a reported $100-million-dollar promotional campaign, Bing is Microsoft's latest grasp at double digits in the war for search engine market share, of which Redmond now owns between 5 and 6 percent (according to Net Applications' Market Share report). After months of beta testing followed by a public preview, Bing officially took over this week as THE search engine powering all of MSN. So, if you use any Microsoft services with even limited frequency, you'll be getting friendly with Bing whether you know it or not, and whether you like it or not.
But Microsoft isn't going to carve out a fatter slice of market share unless it can convince a new, non-MSN audience to abandon Google and to make Bing its second brain instead. Of course, there has to be good reason to do that. Very good reason. So this week I installed the official Bing add-on to Firefox and put the new kid on the block to the test.
First, though, a word about the name. Bing isn't terrible -- certainly easier on the ears than Wolfram|Alpha, and I suppose I can imagine myself one day "binging" the answer to something instead of "googling" it. But every time I hear the name, I can't help but think of Chandler Bing, Matthew Perry's character on Friends. Nothing against Matthew Perry, but I've already grown really tired of picturing what he's up to every time I get some search results back. Hey, at least they didn't call it "Schwimmer," right? Then again, was Bing really the best Microsoft could come up with? Surely Ballmer and the boys realized, as many bloggers have cleverly pointed out, BING is a nice acronym for, "But Its Not Google." Ha!
OK, enough fun. Let's see how this puppy performs.
The first thing you'll notice on the Bing homepage is the beautiful background image, which changes every day. One day it's a photo of a quaint Italian village, the next it's hot-air balloons, the next it's space, and so on and so forth. Each image is embedded with hotspots that you can click to search for different content related to the photo. It's an interesting little gimmick Microsoft hopes will give folks a reason to come back and visit every day. I think good search results would be a better reason -- and Bing more or less delivers.
This week, the band Rancid came out with a new album. When I search for "rancid" in Bing, I like what I see. The main part of the page spits out the standard search results you'd expect from Google (in fact, they're almost identical), though with nice photos of the band up there as the top result. Each result also pops up a little preview when I mouse over it, to give me a better idea of what to expect on the site that's being suggested. If a Wikipedia entry is returned (as they almost always are), I can click an "enhanced view" link to read the entire Wikipedia article right on the Bing page, instead of going off to the Wikipedia site.
The left column really differentiates Bing. Here, I find a set of contextual links pointing me toward images, tour dates, tickets, lyrics, downloads, interviews, and videos. Very cool. I follow the video link and am presented with tons of relevant video from all over the Web, not unlike Google's video search. And, similar to Google's video search, I can filter those video results by length, resolution, screen size, and source. But here's what Bing does that's fairly novel: When I mouse over the video thumbnails, a preview of the video starts to play. That's pretty sweet.
One of my favorite parts of Google is the instant knowledge it effortlessly returns, like currency exchange rates or what time it is right now in a given city. Bing handles these kinds of queries as well. And just for fun, I typed in "red sox score" to see what would happen.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.