Can Microsoft's Bing really challenge Google?

Bing will start to take on the mighty Google in the battle for web search supremacy this week; UK version a 'Beta test'
The two biggest names in technology are set to slug it out over the coming weeks in a $20 billion (£12 billion) battle for web supremacy. In one corner is Google, the dominant player in online searches; in the other is Microsoft, the world’s biggest software company. Microsoft is poised to launch Bing, a new search engine it says will give more useful results and end its rival’s hegemony.

If the software lives up to its maker’s claims, it will allow users to target their searches more accurately and do away with the millions of irrelevant results that many searches retrieve on Google. Microsoft calls it a “decision engine” because, it claims, it refines your search more carefully and offers a list of topics of related interest — something Google doesn’t do.

Bing will go live in America on June 3. The UK version is soft-launching as a “Beta test” while Microsoft’s 60-strong team of London-based engineers work out how best to tailor it to UK users, and roll it out over the next six weeks.

In a demonstration last week at Microsoft’s London headquarters, Bing was unveiled to a small audience of journalists. And it looked impressive. Type in a term and the engine “recognises” immediately what you are after. So, for example, if you enter a brand name or specific product, Bing returns the results in a main window and offers one-click refinements to your search in a column that appears on the left.

“We have what we think are a series of Google-beating features,” says Ashley Highfield, the man who is in charge of the UK rollout of Bing and previously helped launch the BBC iPlayer. ”We are trying to move from a world where people are generally frustrated with their search, to one where people are genuinely pleased with their answers.

“For example, if you enter Nikon D80, Bing will know you are looking for a camera. From that moment on, a lot of things happen differently. With Google you get 500,000 search results in decreasing relevance. With us, because we know it’s a camera, we immediately open up categories on the left hand side. It starts with where to buy Nikon D80s, the next one is instruction manuals, or how to use Nikon D80s. Anything you put in it will recognise and start to categorise.”

A search for a big company such as British Airways guides you to the BA home page while also presenting key information trawled from the site, including contact details and the site’s own search box, which can be accessed directly from the Bing results.

The success of Bing will clearly depend on how many people decide to break the Google habit — a fact that Microsoft is only too aware of: its launch in the US will be accompanied by a $100m advertising campaign.

The stakes are high. Last year Google reported net income of $4.34 billion on revenue of $22.12 billion, largely from paid advertising associated with search keywords. This reflects its share of the market: it currently accounts for 53% of online searches, followed by Yahoo! with 19.9%, which leaves Microsoft’s existing search engine, Windows Live, a distant third with 11.9%.

Will Bing prove good enough and different enough to change those figures? “That’s the big question,” says Andy Mihalop, an online advertising specialist. “It’s going to be very difficult to break the Google habit and Microsoft is going to have to invest in a huge amount in advertising to get people away from Google.”

BY Nigel Kendall
Source:The Sunday Times

Copyright 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd.



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