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Microsoft's Bing Search Engine Unveiled

Microsoft announced "Bing" on Thursday, the company's newest search engine technology and brand campaign.

The consumer-oriented Bing search portal will "begin to roll out over the coming days," according to Microsoft's announcement, but it will be available worldwide on June 3 at http://www.bing.com.

Microsoft has been considering various branding alternatives to its current Live Search solution for many months. The Bing name was picked for various marketing reasons, according to Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO.

"I'm not the creative guy, here…short mattered…people like to 'verb up'…works globally, doesn’t have negative connotations," Ballmer explained, in an interview at the All Things D event, which is being held this week in Carlsbad, Calif.

Fevered speculation about the new search brand seemed to center on the "Kumo" name, but that turned out to be an intentional marketing diversion. Even Microsoft's own employees were misled.

"Microsoft employees are redirected to Kumo automatically whenever we opened up a Live Search while connected to the corporate network," a Microsoft blog explained.

Another Microsoft blogger explained the Bing name as based on a so-called recursive acronym. "In my personal opinion, BING = Bing Is Not Google," the blogger wrote.

Google currently holds the No. 1 position in terms of online search engine use, with a 64 percent market share, according to April comScore estimates. Yahoo places second with a 20 percent share, and Microsoft trails in third place with about eight percent search use.

Microsoft's spending on search technology has been showing up regularly in its quarterly reports as an expense drain. Ballmer said at the All Things D event that Microsoft plans to invest "lots" of money on the Bing branding effort. A report by Advertising Age quantified that amount, suggesting that Microsoft would allocate "$80 million to $100 million" on promoting the Bing brand.

Previously, Microsoft had tried to increase its search marketing share by offering to buy Yahoo. Microsoft has since dropped that bid, but Microsoft officials still talk about establishing some sort of search deal with Yahoo. However, the All Things D event failed to generate any such news about an impending deal. Yahoo's CEO Carol Bartz noted at the event that a Yahoo acquisition by Microsoft would only be possible with a "boatload of money."

Bing may turn out to be just one project in Microsoft's overall efforts to catch up with Google on search. Other technologies besides Kumo (now Bing) are under development, according to Mike Nichols, Microsoft's general manager of Live Search.

"We're testing, not just in the Kumo test, but in all kinds of top-secret prototypes that I can't tell you about, all kinds of ways to address these and other opportunities," Nichols said in an interview.

Another change that will happen with the Bing release is that Redmond's online mapping application, Microsoft Virtual Earth, will get rebranded as "Bing Maps for Enterprise," according to a Microsoft blog. The consumer mapping version, called Microsoft Live Search Maps, will be renamed as "Bing Maps."

One user who tested Bing for a week described Bing as a sort of portal page that you stay on after searching. Microsoft's announcement makes the point of calling Bing a "decision engine" rather than a search engine. Some of the features seem to bear out that description. For instance, Bing has an "explore pane" that sits at the left of the screen and provides additional links to help filter search results. A Quick Preview feature lets users hover over a search result to peek at the site's content without actually going there.

Microsoft describes more of Bing's new search features at its portal page. However, in keeping with Bing's consumer focus, Microsoft will continue the "cashback" program that's currently part of Live Search. Cashback provides discounts to buyers when they use the search engine to buy products. Microsoft had hoped to kill off the popularity of Google's search engine with cashback, but Google still leads in search market share by a wide margin.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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