NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2009
Bing – The New Search Engine from Microsoft
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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Most people think of Google when they want to do an online search. Google has even become a pseudo-verb for internet searches, as in the context, “I am googling for it.” Yahoo! is a strong number two in the crowded and competitive search engine field, with Microsoft’s Live Search being third. Anecdotally, most internet searchers who use Live Search use it because it is the default search engine linked with recent builds of Internet Explorer, which defaults to MSN and Live Search unless manually changed by the user. Microsoft is well aware that its Live Search is not the coveted top ranked search engine, and that it has significant room for improvement both in technology and in the size of the website database. This has been demonstrated by Microsoft’s on again, off again discussions to take over Yahoo!, along with Yahoo!’s canonical search engine (my personal favorite), AllTheWeb (http://www.alltheweb.com). As a free standing search engine, Microsoft’s Live Search has simply lacked the pizzazz of its major competitors until now.

Microsoft recently rolled out the latest iteration of its search engine, formerly Live Search, and now called Bing, at http://www.bing.com. Bing will function well as a traditional search engine, but has additional features that are an obvious attempt to compete against the many additional features of both Google and Yahoo! While all of the search engines have a simple search box where queries are entered, Bing goes a step further by adding additional search features to make the results more meaningful. Bing has the slogan, “When it comes to decisions that matter, Bing & Decide”. Bing offers the user the opportunity to select from different categories of information, specifically travel, shopping, health, local, and “even more”. Another feature that I found helpful was the “hover” feature, where hovering the cursor over a website provided a preview of the contents of that website. Bing also offers specialized searches for other forms of content, such as images, video, shopping, news, maps, and travel. By selecting a content category, such as images, only the database of images will be searched and displayed. The Bing news search feature is clearly inferior to the news search features on Yahoo! and Google, and in need of improvement.

In terms of travel, Bing will find the lowest airfares, best hotel deals, and real-time flight status. There is no need to enter a specific search area or click on a special link to get travel information on Bing. All the user needs to do is type the request in the search box. For example, simply typing “flight info” in the search box will display the websites that have real time flight info, including a secondary search box where the name of the airline and flight number can be entered to display the flight status. Typing a city pair in the search box, such as “Houston to Atlanta” will display not just airfares, but a projection of changes in airfares helping the traveler decide whether to buy now before the fare increase, or to wait for lower airfares.

I will admit that I have used Google’s price comparison service (formerly called “Froogle”) while shopping to get the best deals. Bing goes a step farther by not just displaying a price comparison, but also offers a “cash back” program from merchants that participate in Microsoft’s Bing Cashback Program. When prices are displayed from various sellers, a separate column displays the rate of cash back. The “Bing Cashback Program” works on a “search, shop, save” principle, and requires a free registration in order to participate in the program. Search displays competitive prices from multiple merchants, along with any cash back savings, enabling the user to quickly shop for bargains. The cash back amount is automatically credited to your personal account upon purchase, and can be collected in about 60 days, as long as there is at least $5 in the cash back account. As I type this, over 700 online merchants are participating in the Bing Cashback Program. Just as a check to see if the shopper is really getting a deal, especially on major purchases, I would recommend that the user corroborate the best price on another shopping bot, such as Google’s Froogle (http://www.google.com/products). In addition to getting prices and rebates, Bing’s shopping listings also display user ratings and reviews, and other smart-shopper resources.

Health topics are a common search area, and Bing provides an abundance of health related information. Typing an inquiry or health term in the search box will display an answer, as well as other resources on the subject. I tried using the health information search function on Bing, and found it very helpful.

Many people use search engines to locate local information, and Bing’s Local section has some excellent resources. One helpful resource on Bing is real-time traffic conditions for dozens of major metropolitan areas. I typed “traffic Houston” and a traffic map of Houston was instantly displayed, with color codes indicating the speed of traffic and any congested areas. Typing a type of restaurant and city will display the establishments of that genre’, along with a map locating them, and sometimes even a current menu. Typing the name of a restaurant and a city will present reviews of the restaurant. As a search engine, Bing has done a very good job compiling and easily displaying local information.

The “Even More” category is a catch-all of miscellaneous information. I typed in the make and model of my car and Bing displayed the price range, fuel economy, user rating, and links to more information. The types of information available here are virtually endless.

While in its earliest release, Bing is a valiant attempt by Microsoft to compete with the rich offerings of Google and Yahoo! I would suggest that internet users try the Bing service, and make personal judgments as to what search engine best meets their needs. As the user becomes more familiar with it, Bing may be a viable choice.

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