Bing: How Useful Is Microsoft's New Search Offering?

Picture 14Windows Live Search didn’t go over too well with the online masses. Few, if any, moved from search industry leader (that’s an understatement) Google. I remember the worst part about doing a fresh Windows install was changing IE’s defaults from Microsoft’s Live services, and replacing Live Search with Google as the default search engine was first priority. So how does new search offering Bing stack up, especially from a web working point of view? You may have already formed your own opinion, but here’s my take.

Basic Search

Before looking at some of its more advanced features, let’s compare it in terms of a straight-up, simple keyword search on a subject close to my heart. Finding information on Apple is a part of my job, and I run Apple-related searches on an hourly basis, if not even more frequently, over the course of the day.

Searching just for the keyword “Apple,” I found the results fairly telling. Bing returned mostly product pages and sub-sections of the official Apple site. While useful to some degree, these pages are not generally the kind of thing that I’m looking for.

Google returns far more context in the first page of results, including Wikipedia results, news results, the Apple store, Apple Developer Connection, and Slashdot pages relating to the subject. This wider view provides much more material for actually accumulating knowledge about any particular subject.

No Blog Search

Bing looks a lot like Google, and it has a lot of the same features, in the same places. Along the top, you have different search options. A news search is available, along with videos, images, and something called “xRank“, which displays the most popular search results.

Notably lacking, though, is a blog search like the one Google has. The news results page in general is far less powerful and detailed than Google’s, and less easy to navigate. There are blogger rankings in the xRank results, but these appear to be more of a popularity contest and less of a useful feature.

More Advanced Searches

Using keywords to try to deliver instantly useful results for things like travel and quick calculation is definitely something that comes in handy in a search engine. Looking up “travel boston” returned nearly identical results in both search engines, though I did appreciate Bing’s “related searches” in the left-hand column. You can turn on related searches in Google, but they’re more hit or miss than Bing, and they’re switched off by default.

Performing a local search showed another vast gap between the two engines, though. Entering “restaurants near” followed by my postal code returned a long list of actual restaurants and a map displaying their proximity in Google, while it just returned a regular list of results, and not particularly useful ones at that, when entered into Bing.

Bing does calculations just as well as Google, though neither search engine provides a really smart or intuitive way to do currency conversion as of yet, in my opinion.

Verdict

For now, Microsoft still seems to be playing catch-up. Maybe it should stop being so concerned with name/branding changes, and start trying to make leaps in usability instead. This web worker is definitely sticking with Google, at any rate.

Will you be adding Bing to your search toolbox?

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