Microsoft today revealed that its next-generation Windows Live Search engine will be branded as Bing, confirming widespread rumors. The service, which is being tested under the code name "Kumo," will replace Windows Live Search later this year, Microsoft says. A public beta is expected June 3.
Of course, Microsoft's search engine has never done particularly well in the market against entrenched competitors like Google and Yahoo! So the software giant is recasting Bing as a "decision engine"—a service that helps people make decisions with more confidence—rather than a general search engine. And Microsoft has settled on a number of popular but more complex search types that it says will differentiate it from the competition. These include shopping, travel, news, health, maps, images, and video.
"If you need to make a decision, try us first," Microsoft Live Search Director Stefan Weitz told me in a recent briefing. "If you have general searches you need to make, you can use any search engine. But if you want to make a decision with more confidence, Bing can help you save time and money."
The Bing search page is attractive and graphical, and it calls out the vertical search types with which it excels via a list of links. One of the big draws here is that complex searches—where you're shopping for a particular product or trying to book a trip, for example—can take place entirely within the confines of Bing. So rather than click in and out of a Spartan list of links, you can instead do research in-place. Bing's travel experience is particularly well designed and is integrated with the price-forecasting capabilities of the Microsoft FareCast service. Likewise, the shopping experience integrates with Microsoft's Cash Back technology, so your PayPal account will automatically be credited if you buy via a Cash Back–compatible site.
Bing provides a number of other advantages over the Googles of the world, regardless of the search type. Search results are intelligently trimmed and filtered so that you're not just presented with a mammoth list of mostly irrelevant links (though you can get to that if you'd prefer). And you can easily filter searches using a sidebar-based list of context-sensitive choices. So if you're searching for, say, a musical act, the service will generate filters like images, songs, lyrics, tickets, merchandise, albums, and videos, as well as a list of relevant related searches, so you can more quickly find what you're looking for.
The search results themselves are also segregated, providing a cleaner and more easily navigated page. Using the preceding example, a search for a musical act will provide a results list that is broken up into sections with the same filters, and you'll see just the several top results in each section, with a link for more results so you can dive in further if necessary.
The big question, of course, is whether the improvements in Bing—and they are real improvements compared with the increasingly tired-looking Google-type search engines with which we're now all familiar—will be enough to draw away users.
For more information about Bing, please see my preview on the SuperSite for Windows.