Analysts have given a mixed response to Microsoft's new search engine, Bing. They say Microsoft Bing will help the company gain some search share against Google and has features that users will find helpful, but is in no way a quick fix for Microsoft's poor position in the search market.
As expected, Microsoft has revealed its rebranded and expanded Bing search engine, which it's promoting as a "decision engine" aimed at helping people organise search information and find what they're looking for more quickly. The news came after months of speculation about what Microsoft would call its next iteration of Live Search and what new features it would have.
To help users find information more quickly, Microsoft Bing's algorithm ranks search results based on how relevant they were for other users. The interface also organises results according to subcategories, depending on the search term, so that people can find the next likely piece of information they may be looking for quickly.
While some of these features deliver better search results than Google's in a side-by-side comparison, it's not a drastic enough change to make people migrate in droves, said Greg Sterling, a search analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence.
"It's a strong first step or a new salvo, but it's not going to dramatically alter the market as it stands today," he said. "Microsoft doesn't see this as the end of the process; it sees this as a new beginning. I think there are interesting things they can do to continue to advance the features."
Sterling said Bing may not pull much share from Google, but it could lure users away from the search engines of AOL, Ask.com and possibly Yahoo, though Microsoft is still rumoured to be close to some kind of search deal with Yahoo, which would change the competitive landscape.
Gartner Group analyst Allen Weiner agreed that Bing isn't presenting a radical new way to search the web. "I don't see anything that you can say, wow, I can't do this on Google or Yahoo," he said.
For example, three areas that Weiner thinks represent the future of search - data visualisation, semantic search and rich media search - are missing from Bing as it was introduced. None of the other major search-engine companies have been able to tackle these areas either, but they are heading in that direction.
However, what Bing does provide Microsoft is a way to catch up to what competitors have now in terms of features, Weiner said.
"It's a marked improvement from Live Search," he said. "Microsoft has done a lot to make the interface more usable, to make it cleaner-looking - a lot with the algorithms to make the search results on par with their competitors for most searches."
The name, which has been the subject of much debate, also differentiates the brand for Microsoft. One insider said Microsoft chose the name because "bing" represents the sound made when a person finds something they're looking for.
No matter what the reasons, Weiner said that Microsoft Bing is a brand - unlike its previous MSN or Live Search brands - that is marketable, quick off the tongue and easily identifiable, but not tied to the Microsoft brand.
"Microsoft has carved out a niche for itself like it did with the Xbox," he said.
It remains to be seen how well Bing fares after its official debut next Wednesday. In the meantime, Google not only continues to add features to its own search engine but also is launching new online applications. On Thursday, the company revealed an ambitious product called Wave that combines email, IM, blogging, photo management, wikis and document sharing.
"Google continues to remind the world they are spending lots of money and time in dictating the future of search," Sterling said. "It's not standing still by any stretch of the imagination."