Archive for June, 2009

Bing Impressions

Microsoft’s most touted search engine finally made to the day light after key acquisitions and internal testing. There is a war going on in the search industry and it is both beautiful and hopefully ugly from the perspectives of each management (I like a good fight between two equally resource laden warriors). Microsoft need to catch up with Google on search and that is both because Google has been milking that space and has grown formidable in the process but also Google is increasingly turning its attention into areas that Microsoft would like to remain the most visible player. It is no secret that both companies covet each other’s markets though there are some who argue that Google is taking less defensive actions to fend Microsoft as Microsoft is doing with Google on search.

Bing is a result of internal Microsoft refinements on Live Search as well as the addition of technologies acquired through the actions of companies like Powerset. Microsoft’s purchase of powerset, gave Bing its ability to understand and process natural languages.

First Impressions

I am generally a quiet person or at the very least I am increasingly appreciative of silence. The name Bing reminds me of a piece of cutlery falling and hitting the floor (hard cold cement), more so unexpectedly. The name will probably grow on me but for now, I just get the impression of an irritating sound … a la the sound Windows Vista makes when showing an error (I hope that volume is not all the way up)!

The Good

Microsoft’s Bing does a great job of handling general queries. Queries about movies were most useful, with suggestions that I would definitely want to look at. A search for Star Trek returned results that are both useful and would lead to the discovery of new information and facts.

The user interface (UI) is pleasant though I am biased towards the Spartan look that Google has going on but alas we are not talking about Google’s search engine page. Here is an area where I definitely prefer how Bing’s way: image search! Bing’s image search results are well presented that it is a pleasure to interact with the results. The number of clicks are kept to the minimum with no need to open a new page. Bing’s image search result page is one of those things that make you wonder why hasn’t someone thought of this before?

Still on the UI, I like the search history: you are immediately aware of what you just typed. This is particularly handy for situations in which the search becomes a little bit too involving … for example, there are situations in which you only want search results which include a particular word or phrase and thus require the use of the + operator. Another way to refine a search would be to quote a phrase that you are looking for thus eliminating any results that only show the constituent words in varying number of occurrences. So, if your refinement does not yield the result, that you are expecting Bing’s search history allows to easily go back to one of the previous search queries that you entered.

The Bad

Aside from the suggestions of an irritating sound of a piece of cutlery hitting the floor, Bing does not seem to show a greater understanding for the internet as yet. While it is particularly good at handling general queries, it falls short when looking for specific information that may be technical in nature.

Here is an example: there are moments when I am writing code in Java that I get an inexplicable exception that I am not able to immediately identify the source. In such an instance, I would like to find instances of discussions on the internet that makes a mention of the exception in question (at least the standard part of the exception). The other day I was searching for an exception thrown up by JAXB (java.io.IOException: [failed to localize] error.marshalling.jaxb) and Bing returned 4 results – none of which was immediately useful and thus required further search inside a PDF. Trying the same query on Google returned 260 hits, with links to discussion forums featuring prominently.

Google Search Results

BingResults

I don’t have any rational explanation as to why Bing’s results were not particularly useful in this instant. Of course the technical nature of the query may have something to do with it – natural query processing may have been too overzealous in their attempt to find the most appropriate match for a query that essentially does not make sense in any natural language.

Conclusion

As with all web applications and more so even search engines, Bing is an on going project that will be refined as time passes and new issues are raised as more people interact with the search engine. The attention to details in the user interface makes it a user friendly search engine. These details may be small when looked at individually, but together they do contribute to a pleasant user interaction.

It’s presentation of image search results is particularly pleasant as it reduces the number of clicks that a user has to use in order to view a full size picture.

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Firefox 3.5: Not yet a Release Candidate

The number of words used to described prerelease software is just staggering. Yes, we do have our favorite bearer of the perpetual beta moniker in the name of Gmail but that is a topic for another day. Mozilla has released a “Preview” of its popular Firefox browser whose next release is to be labeled Firefox 3.5. The preview release is being used for testing, before they finally release a release candidate (RC).

Firefox 3.5 has underwent heavy development that they had to change the version to 3.5. Like all the so called modern browsers, Firefox 3.5 will have a faster JavaScript engine and introduces support for some elements of the next version of HTML currently known as HTML5. A faster JavaScript engine makes it easier to have develop high performance JavaScript applications that run on the browser. The use of AJAX sparked an interest in JavaScript but the use of JavaScript has a long way to go in improving performance of web applications as well as enabling offline storage. For all the JavaScript code to work reliably, it is important to have a fast JavaScript and TraceMonkey is fast compared to earlier JavaScript engines used in Firefox.

Among the most commonly mentioned features of HTML5 in Firefox 3.5 is the support for audio and video tag. Native support for audio and video content is important because before HTML5, browsers have had to rely on plug-ins to play video and audio. You need to download and install plug-ins before you can view any videos on YouTube or any such video websites. If you happen to reach sites that use Microsoft codec, then you will also need to download a plug-in for Windows Media files. A consistent and out of the the box video and audio playback capability is a win for all web users.

Firefox 3.5 preview will help developers of the browser to gather feedback about the bug fixes that have implemented since the release of Firefox 3.5 beta 4. As of this writing, you can not download Firefox 3.5 preview from Mozilla but if you have Firefox 3.5 beta 4 installed you can do a manual update from the Help menu. Find the announcement of the release of the preview here.

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