Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

May 2009 - Posts

  • Bing! First Impressions – Part 2

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    This is the second part of my ongoing review of Microsoft’s new “decision engine,” Bing. Read Part 1 here.

    Reading the Bing Commentary
    In researching my opinions on Bing News vs Google News, I caught some interesting headlines on Google News about Bing. Two of them could not have been more different.

    One was from Mike Elgan of Computerworld, who painted a dystopian future about how terrible the world will be with Microsoft’s “decision engine” making all of our decisions for us. He derides the “best match” feature, even though stating a fact is something search newcomer Wolfram|Alpha does quite nicely. He also seems to think that accuracy and popularity are synonymous, but then again he probably also thinks Darth Vader said “Luke, I am your father.” Of course, this opinion was based on a video, and not actually using it, but that is beside the point.

    Somewhere along the way, Mike forgot that we are all humans, capable of making our own decisions, and somehow decided that Microsoft’s plan involves actually making the decisions for all of us. You can’t blame him tho, because he assumed that Bing is wired into everyone’s cerebral cortex, and that the technological advances in Bing were centered around new computer code that could override human free will and program humans to do whatever Microsoft wanted.

    Look Mike, this argument applies just as much to ComputerWorld, or Google, or any other website. If you, as a human, don’t use your reasoning skills to make your own decisions, it is a PEBCAK problem, not a Microsoft problem. But you may want to put an extra layer of tin foil around your hat, just in case.

    The other comes from Barrons, and has a great money (literally) quote:

    People certainly found it appealing. One fund manager I chatted with said that not only does he intend to start using the service when it launches June 3, but also that he is mulling whether to short Google. I was a little startled by that response, but you can see his point: Microsoft might be able to nibble some market share away from Google at the margin, and slow its steady march to complete domination.

    It will be very interesting to see what the market does in the next few weeks in response to this new search product.

    Sorry for the detour… back to the review.

    News
    There are too many new sites on the Internet. Microsoft is as big a culprit as anyone else, it has no fewer than four major news sites. It is clear that Bing News will replace Live Search News, but what is unclear is what will happen to My Live. Hopefully nothing major, since it is my RSS aggregator of choice.

    News
    image image
    Bing Google

    There are no substantial changes here. It would be neat if Microsoft combined the Powerset technology with my search history to suggest news that might be interesting to me, similar to the way Suggested Sites works with IE8. Then it might end up doing what Techmeme used to do, which was bubble up obscure posts about things going on that I might not be aware of. This is something that Google does already, though I don’t use it because I don’t like Google tracking my search history.

    I will say that I like Bing News better than Google, for the exact opposite reason than for Search: there is less information on the page. Google News is designed by people who write code, so they don’t mind if their eyes are constantly bombarded by text. Bing doesn’t try to be MSNBC (or MSNBC clone Yahoo News), it just gives you a few links to what is going on, and an easy way to dive into a topic to see more. And I like that.

    Images and Video
    You know, it’s funny. I was going to write this whole section on how Bing expands on image and video searching by providing new features like live filtering by metadata, or mouse-over playback for videos. Then I went to Live.com to compare the old system to the new Bing… and they’re pretty much exactly the same. Because I had never liked the results from Live.com, I never really dove into the other features and gave them a shot. Maybe the improvements with Bing on the semantic side will finally give Microsoft the credit they deserve in other areas.

    For me, Bing Images is the clear winner. Their filter tools make it easy to get to the image I’m looking for, and it appears that the search results filter duplicates very well. Google

    But just for argument’s sake, I’ll show the side-by-sides anyway.

    Image Search for “North Korea”
    image image
    Bing Google

    With Video, Bing is the winner again. With their mouse-over playback, you don’t actually have to click through to YouTube to get a preview of the video. Google won’t ever do that, because they are trying to drive as much traffic as possible to YouTube. Google opted instead to “borrow” the layout from MSN Video, without borrowing any of the aspects of the design that actually made it interesting.

    Video Search for “Susan Boyle”
    image image
    Bing Google

    And thus ends Part 2 of my review. In Part 3, I’ll tackle Shopping and Travel.

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  • Bing! First Impressions – Part 1

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    This is Part 1 of my review of Bing. Read Part 2 here.

    When it comes to search engines, I’ve always used Google. I think their results have been unsurpassed in the last decade, which is why they are the “market leader.” I have been heavily resistant to using Microsoft-branded search engines, because their results have never gotten me what I’ve been looking for. So if you start reading this assuming that because I like Microsoft that I’m going to like Bing, that would be a false assumption.

    I was fortunate enough to get a preview code from someone at Microsoft (Thanks!), and have spent the better part of the afternoon exploring its capabilities. I have to admit, I am pleasantly surprised. I am intrigued enough at the quality of the results that it may indeed change my search habits.

    NOTE: I should point out that, while I have included links to Bing search results, none of them will actually work until Wednesday, June 3rd.

    Not Just a Rebranding Exercise
    Many experts in the field of search with write off Bing without even trying it, claiming it’s just MSN Search Live Search in yet another fancy new package. Those people would be wrong. While the UI may evoke many of the things you’ve come to expect from Live Search (fonts, layout, etc), it is definitely a new product. Giving it a new name also helps (once and for all) separate the Windows Live software+services (Messenger, Mesh, Photo Gallery, etc) from the Search-related offerings. No more confusion, just a cleanly-defined strategy. This is by far one of my initial favorite aspects of the new offering… it’s just too bad it took almost 2 years to make it happen.

    Better Use of Space
    Right off the bat, I find Bing’s design more pleasing to the eye. The color palate, use of gradients, and visual organization are very nice. It makes Google’s design amateur by comparison. It’s like comparing a website done in Silverlight to a website done in Frontpage XP. The design aesthetic makes me want to come back often, which is something Google’s engineer mindset fails to comprehend.

    Search for “tallahassee”
    image
    Bing Google

    Bing’s header uses 1/3rd less space (100px for Bing vs 150px for Google) which helps fit more search results “above the fold.” It also portrays this feeling that Bing wants you to focus on the results, whereas Google wants you to focus on itself and how awesome it is. Bing also utilizes a sidebar to present you with options to pivot your search on areas of the same topic. Underneath that is a list of related searches, and below that is your search history. So there is more information put in front of you than Google, but not in a way that feels overwhelming.

    Initially Smarter
    Differentiating Bing as a “Decision Engine” and not a search engine is also a very good thing. In my experience, searching with Google does not lead to definitive answers, only more searching. It doesn’t usually solve anything; it just gives you places to continue your search. Bing tries to make assumptions to add context to your queries, operating under the theory that those assumptions will yield better results. And based on my experience so far, that theory is correct.

    The first assumption Bing makes is that your search is for something local. It factors my IP address into every query. Take for example, the search for “weather”, illustrated below. Bing automatically figured I wanted to know the weather for where I was (which is Washington, PA at the moment), whereas Google makes me take the extra step of putting in my zip code before I get a forecast.

    Search for “weather”
    image
    Bing Google

    For many of you following me on Twitter, I ended up in the ER on Memorial Day with Appendicitis. As I mentioned above, my family and I are in PA on vacation with my in-laws, so I wasn’t quite sure which hospital to go to. It’s a good thing it wasn’t a life-threatening issue, because with Google, I would have wasted precious seconds filtering through results before I got to hospitals in my area. Not so with Bing:

    Search for “hospital”
    image
    Bing Google

    You may consider that melodramatic, however it’s extremely unlikely that you’re looking for a Wikipedia definition of “hospital” if you type that term in, and Bing is smart enough to know that. To Google’s defense, they do give you a map centered on your location, but it’s not until the 4th link down, which on my Lenovo x300, is nearly below the “fold”.

    Searching for something less urgent, say what you want for dinner, brings up equally impressive results. It brings up the “Best Match” first, and specifically calls it to your attention. Underneath that, a list of the top 5 closest locations to what it thinks is your location. To the left are 5 items you might be interested in (including “nutrition”, “menu”, and “commercials”.

    Search for “Applebee's”
    image
    Bing Google

    The only issue I have with the option to see something like “Commercials” is that, though it appears that Microsoft is using the PowerSet technology for the blue-shaded area beneath the logo. It would be nice if the Semantic goodness would understand that clicking “Commercials” should take you to video search results, which is a far cooler… and will be covered in Part 2.

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  • Office 2010 Technical Preview Leak Shows Windows 7 Integration

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    Microsoft passed out the Technical Preview bits to TAP partners, and like clockwork, the bits leaked out on the Internet. And like the Build Whore that I am, I went and downloaded it. There are scores of screenshots all over the net already, so there is no point in posting them here. I do, however, have a screenshot that no one else has… Outlook 2010’s Jump List menu.

    image Outlook 2010 Jump List in Windows 7

    I’ve only been using it an hour, and this single feature has already made me vastly more productive. WTG Office team!

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  • A Little Trip Through the Wayback Machine

    I was doing some ego surfing this morning, when I came across a reference to my company (Interscape Technologies) in an unusual place: a PDF file. Curious, I clicked the link… and what I found totally caught me by surprise.

    Apparently, two professors from the Catholic University in Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany presented a research paper at the International Federation of Scholarly Associations of Management (IFSAM) World Congress in 2006 (Track 3, Session 1). This paper used LonghornBlogs.com as a case study in how blogging is a “neopoiesis” (novel formation, instead of an emergence) for self-organizing, globally-distributed knowledge management.

    The research involved is fascinating. I had no idea that someone had put that much effort into deconstructing the site. They also drew some very interesting conclusions, and even mapped out the interaction between bloggers, as depicted below:

    image (Click to enlarge)

    I vaguely remember being contacted for the survey they mention in the 34-page paper. I had no idea what they were using it for. We weren’t really thinking about it this way at the time, but LonghornBlogs was one of the first IT-related group blogs available at the time, along with dotnetweblogs.com and geekswithblogs.net. Fellow bloggers like Robert Scoble, Rob Howard, Scott Watermasysk, Drew Marsh, Jeff Julian, and others had a big hand in making IT blogging what it is today. I’m glad to have played a small part in that.

    I’m curious to see what came of this research, so if you were affiliated with this paper, please use the “Contact” link to get in touch with me.

    And on that note, I’m back from my hiatus and will be starting up my coverage of Windows 7 very soon.

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