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Microsoft Challenges Google With Bing Search Engine

2009.06.01

Microsoft Corp. introduced a search engine with enhanced shopping, travel and sorting features, an effort to show that Google Inc. can’t do everything.

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer unveiled the new service, called Bing, at a technology conference today in Carlsbad, California. The program will be available over the next several days, accompanied by the company’s first broad advertising campaign promoting a search engine.

Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, has an eighth of Google’s U.S. market share in Internet searches, forcing it to find specific niches to exploit. The Redmond, Washington-based company is seeking areas where Google doesn’t deliver exactly what users want, said Mike Nichols, Microsoft’s general manager for search products.

“We don’t have any illusion that people will wholesale change their behavior in a massive way,” Nichols said. “It’s more that our approach is to build a clear positioning with the consumer to explain to their neighbors why they use the product.”

A shopping feature, for instance, lets users find product thumbnail photos and reviews. By clicking on one of the listings, users can view a table with pricing and shipping information from various sellers. A bar on the left side summarizes the main features mentioned in reviews and how well they scored.

Airfare Searches

Searching for a flight route -- say, Seattle to New York’s JFK airport -- will return predictions on whether fares will rise. The software will list the best deal and let customers book travel and hotels. That feature relies on software from Microsoft’s 2008 acquisition of Farecast Inc.

When customers search on a term, Bing gives them a “best match” on the top of the screen. Searching for a company like United Parcel Service Inc. would list the shipping company’s customer-service number and provide a box where users can enter a tracking number to locate their package.

Google welcomes the new competition, said Gabriel Stricker, a spokesman for the Mountain View, California-based company.

“Having great competitors is a huge benefit to us and everyone in the search space,” he said. “It makes us all work harder, and at the end of the day, our users benefit from that.”

Today, Google announced a new service called Wave. It will allow users to instantly share photos, gadgets and other content from the Internet on a page called a “wave.” Google hasn’t decided when it will release the product, according to a posting on the company’s blog.

Lost Ground

Microsoft has lost market share since its first home-grown search engine debuted in 2004. Before that, it offered a program from Yahoo. Bing is the third brand the company has used for its search software.

Microsoft is “trying to get it right,” Ballmer said. At times, the company feels a bit like the “Rocky” movies because it has to do so many sequels, he said.

Ballmer likened Bing to “The Little Engine That Could.”

“I’ve got a lot of coal stokers back there, but it’s still the Little Engine, baby,” he said.

Microsoft also is holding talks with Yahoo! Inc. on a search agreement, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said yesterday. A combination of the two companies’ search units would give them about 30 percent of the market, making the resulting search engine more attractive to advertisers.

The increased traffic also would provide more query data, helping Microsoft refine its search engine so that the software generates more relevant results.

‘Also-Ran’

“If they can merge with Yahoo or do a deal with Yahoo, advertisers would take them more seriously and more people would use them,” said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Washington-based research firm. “Right now, they’re an also-ran. They have their work cut out for them.”

Microsoft is moving ahead with product development, regardless of what happens with Yahoo, Nichols said. The company is expecting a long fight before it catches Google.

“One release is not going to all of a sudden get us there,” he said. “But we think it’s a really nice step in the right direction. Google had like a 10-year head start.”

Microsoft rose 32 cents to $20.45 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares have gained 5.2 percent this year. Google added $4.84 to $410.40.

For searches on products, people and places, Microsoft’s new software groups results into categories. For example, a search on Barack Obama offers categories like news, quotes and books, while a search on New York City produces maps, restaurants and weather.

Faster Searches

If a user’s cursor hovers over a search result, the software shows a preview of the page’s content, including clickable links. That reduces the number of screens people have to pass through to get what they want. The software also lists past queries and related searches in a pane along the left side of the screen.

Users will be able to try the new search at http://www.bing.com over the next few days. The search box on Microsoft’s MSN.com page will switch over to Bing as well.

The features may gain Microsoft a small boost in users, though not enough to stop Google from running away with the market, Rosoff said.

“It’s the best they’ve had so far, but I don’t know if it’s going to be good enough,” he said. “It might be too late to take significant share from Google

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aCVOvjsyys4o

 

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