Foley on Microsoft

Bing Seeps Deeper into the Microsoft Core

As Microsoft continues to find more places where it can integrate Bing , it's becoming less and less likely the company can -- or will -- sell off Bing.

Don't tell Wall Street, but Bing isn't just the Microsoft Web search engine anymore -- and hasn't been for some time. Though many consider Bing as nothing more than a money-losing distant second to Google Web search, it's well beyond that stage. While armchair quarterbacks continue to focus on whether Microsoft gained an additional micro-point in search share each month, Microsoft has quietly focused on using Bing's algorithms, APIs and back-end computational engines to power new and existing products.

Microsoft no longer sees Bing search simply as one of many components of Windows. The new "One Microsoft" regime sees Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox as platforms powered by Bing. In some ways, Windows is becoming a shell that delivers Bing to users.

Calling Cortana
This month Microsoft will show off publicly its competitor to Google Now and Apple's Siri that will be built into Windows Phone 8.1. That personal digital-assistant service, code-named "Cortana," is Bing-powered through and through. It's the Bing Satori index that will enable Cortana to connect the dots when a user says, "Wake me at 7 a.m."

The recently introduced Office Graph at the core of the next version of Office 365 also makes liberal use of Bing to help connect people and data inside organizations. Microsoft used the FAST index core, which is also embedded in SharePoint Server 2013, plus algorithms from Bing to build the Office Graph. Last year, Microsoft also began to push Bing as a development platform in its own right -- one available to developers both inside and outside Microsoft. One of the biggest selling points of this new development platform is the constant updating of its APIs and data via Satori.

Microsoft is expected to rely on Bing as a vehicle for helping the company monetize its other properties going forward. One example: The new Windows 8.1 with Bing, which Microsoft is said to have begun making available to PC makers as of March. Rather than simply chop the price of a Windows 8.1 OS license to some nominal fee (or zero, at some point) and take a loss, Microsoft is making a deal with OEMs. PC makers who want the cheapest version of Windows 8.1 will have to agree to make Bing the default search engine on their devices. Don't fear: Bing isn't hardwired. Users will still be able to switch to another search engine, if desired. This new SKU is an attempt to thwart the practice of Windows 8 OEMs making Google the default, out-of-the-box search engine and expose Bing to more users.

Tip of the Iceberg
These examples are just the tip of the Bingization iceberg. The Bing Satori indexing technology is expanding exponentially. Satori is what makes the connections between entities and relationships and is going to be even more important to current and future Microsoft services and software. Satori falls under the Microsoft Applications and Services Group (ASG), specifically the Information Platform business.

ASG is where Microsoft Office client, services, Office 365, Bing Apps, Web and advertising search -- among other products and services -- live. But ASG is working closely with other Microsoft teams, as well as Microsoft Research, in today's less-siloed Microsoft.

Bing is also a critical component in Microsoft's efforts to advance machine learning -- automatically improving system performance, using techniques such as data mining, autonomous discovery, database updating and other methods. In addition to Bing, Microsoft's machine-learning efforts are closely aligned with Satori. The way Cortana, Kinect, Yammer enterprise social networking and other Microsoft products and services will "get smarter" about users is linked inextricably with Bing."Bing it" is taking on a whole new meaning these days.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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