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.
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)!
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.
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.
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.
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.