After 5 years, Bing still trails Google -- but it has other plans

Always the bridesmaid, Microsoft looks to integrate Bing in new 'world of devices'

Microsoft released Bing -- meant to be the great challenger to Google's ubiquitous search engine -- in June 2009. Five years later, it's clear that Bing has not been the Google challenger Microsoft hoped it would be. Not even close.

Microsoft's search engine hasn't gained much market share in its five years, but it also hasn't slipped from its -- albeit distant -- second-place position to Google's dominant spot. And Microsoft is moving beyond using Bing for more than just public search.

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"Bing has to be a huge disappointment for Microsoft these days," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "I don't see Microsoft giving up on Bing, but I also haven't seen much in the way of new features or big announcements, either. I think Bing is too big and makes enough money so that Microsoft won't drop it. But, it's not big enough to present a significant challenge to Google."

Microsoft launched Bing, the home-grown search engine it had poured a lot of time, money and engineering muscle into, as more of a "decision engine" than a search engine. Microsoft wanted to gain a foothold in the market by positioning Bing as a way to help people search the Web more intelligently and to simplify everyday tasks such as getting directions.

Over the next few years, Microsoft and Google tried to one-up each other -- adding users' likes and comments, social networking posts and local business reviews. Both also tweaked their search engines to function better on burgeoning mobile platforms. Microsoft even bested Google in setting up key partnerships. Twitter inked a deal early on to let Bing search users' tweets.

Bing also got a boost when Microsoft created an alliance with Yahoo to have Microsoft's Bing search engine power Yahoo's sites.

However, despite those efforts, Bing never snagged much market share from Google. In March, Internet tracker comScore Inc. reported that Google held 67.5percent of the search market, while Bing had 18.6percent and Yahoo, 10.1percent.

Users around the world have created a habit of using Google when they want to search for anything from the cause of headaches to big game scores, celebrity hairstyles and how companies are using the cloud. It's proven hard for Bing to break users' Google habit.

David Schubmehl, a research director at IDC, said that he's not sure what's in store for the search engine now that Satya Nadella has replaced Steve Ballmer as Microsoft's CEO. "In the new regime, I'm not sure where Bing fits, to be honest with you," he said. "Bing's not part of the enterprise story, so the question is if they'll continue to move it along or are they going to sell it off to somebody? I just don't know if it's the focus of the current management team."

Microsoft marked Bing's anniversary this week by looking back and by looking to the future. "On June 3rd 2009, we debuted to the world with a fresh approach to search..., " wrote the Bing team in a blog post. "A lot has happened since that debut."

The blog pointed out the first Bing homepage and amassed a gallery of their homepage favorites over the past five years.

The Bing Team is also talking about the Bing Platform. "Finally, so many pieces of technology and talent have come together to where we can begin to realize our science fiction dreams of invisible computing, carefully guiding us, helping us, and making us better in ways that matter to us," the team wrote. "People used to interact with digital interfaces in one way -- on [a] computer monitor. Now, there are dozens of ways with varying levels of capability. We want to reduce these interaction barriers."

Bing, for instance, is being used to put advanced intelligence in Cortana, the fictional artificial intelligent character in the Halo video game series. It's also behind multi-lingual abilities in Facebook and Twitter, and even powers Siri, Apple's intelligent personal assistant for the iOS platform.

"The idea of launching a browser, going to a website, and typing in a search box? That's so 2009," wrote the Bing Team. "As the world of devices constantly changes and new form factors come into play, there will be a need to better use information, either by seeking it out or having it pushed to you, and take action. Bing has shifted its focus to be in position to be the search for this new, changing world."

Olds sees this as a smart move for Microsoft. Being able to integrate Bing into existing Microsoft offerings, like Windows and Xbox, gives Bing an edge in some ways, according to Olds.

"However, this is dwarfed by the number of ways that Google search has been incorporated into Google services and most other websites," he added. "Microsoft might have a point about search being more about integration and other form factors these days. However, that just highlights another Google strength. Google is a far larger presence in phones and tablets than Microsoft. And Google search is baked into a huge number of apps that require search capability."

If you just look at Bing's public search share, it's certainly not doing so well. However, search is becoming more important to Bing's whole organization.

"If you take a broader view, search is an important technology to the enterprise," said Schubmehl. "Think of Bing as a loss leader in terms of public search, but it provides investment and learning they can use in Windows phone, Xbox and Windows itself."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "After 5 years, Bing still trails Google -- but it has other plans" was originally published by Computerworld.

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