Microsoft's Bing search engine went live in the United States over the weekend, formally launching the company's latest attempt to wrest a larger slice of the lucrative online search market from incumbent Google.
As of Monday, Bing.com featured a home page festooned with colorful hot air balloons rising against a desert backdrop. The page also included links to specific search categories, such as news, videos, shopping, maps, and travel.
Also present were tabs that direct users to bonus features such as Microsoft's cash-back search rewards program and links to pages for developers and Webmasters.
Bing, according to Microsoft, is designed to deliver a more functional experience than existing search engines, including Google's. That is, queries entered into Bing yield not only information related to the search term, but also links to sites where users can make purchases and engage in other related activities.
For instance, a search on Bing for, say, flights to Hawaii, coughs up real-time pricing and availability information, and allows users to make a booking in real time. Microsoft said Bing initially will focus on four areas: making a purchase decision, trip planning, finding local businesses, and researching health conditions.
With Bing, Microsoft is hoping to catch up to Google in search market share. But it has its work cut out for it. Google presently controls about 64% of the U.S. search market, while Microsoft owns only about 8% of the market, according to researchers at ComScore. Yahoo, the No. 2 player, holds 21% of the market. Microsoft and Yahoo have engaged in numerous talks that could yet result in a search alliance between the two companies or a Microsoft buyout of Yahoo's search properties.
The company announced Bing at the D: All Things Digital conference in Dallas Thursday, ending weeks of speculation about the product.
Microsoft is rolling a number of existing products and technologies into Bing in an effort to present a coherent face to users. Redmond in the past has been criticized for offering up a confusing array of similar products under numerous brand names such as MSN Search, Live Search, and Windows Live Search.
Microsoft's Virtual Earth mapping platform is now Bing Maps for Enterprise. Technology the company gained through its 2008 buyout of travel site Farecast has been added to Bing Travel, and its cash-back search incentive program is now known as Bing Cashback.
Whether it's enough to dint Google's commanding share of the search market remains to be seen.
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