Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

Bing! First Impressions – Part 1

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”
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”
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”
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”
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.

Posted on May 30 2009, 11:17 AM by Robert McLaws
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  • Bing is awesome so far. I do see it taking some market share from Google. As long as the Microsoft haters don't spread so much FUD around... I'm switching. Microsoft is sure doing things right a lot lately! :)

    May 30, 2009 11:55 AM
  • Dave Burke said:

    Robert, I always enjoy your detailed reviews and perspective.  Lots of good info here.  You certainly piqued MY interest in Bing.  I hope you're back to full strength after Appendicitis.  Welcome to the club.  Not fun.  I don't think I had as good of drugs as you did, however.

    May 30, 2009 12:36 PM
  • This is the second part of my ongoing review of Microsoft’s new “decision engine,” Bing . Read Part 1

    May 30, 2009 5:42 PM
  • Great review, Robert! I can't wait to try Bing out myself, it looks like a sure winner.

    May 31, 2009 8:04 AM
  • What happens their other products. Will Microsoft now have five top websites as against a singular for Google. The constant rebranding is that good or bad ?

    May 31, 2009 10:56 PM
  • benonymous said:

    What do you think of the lack of centering on the search results? Live Search centered the search results on the screen but Bing leaves them left-aligned. You've posted nice pictures of the results centered on a small monitor, but many of us have much larger screens and one of the design elements that Live Search really triumphed over Google with, in my mind, was the center-aligned results pages. Bing's left-aligned results pages have left half of my screen a huge white void of nothingness. Yuck.

    June 1, 2009 3:05 AM
  • Brad said:

    Very detailed review!  Looking forward to part 2 :D

    June 4, 2009 11:08 AM