Bing balloons into public view

Microsoft's big bet on search begins to be publicly available, with the opinions rolling in fast and furious.

Each day, Bing features a different background image, meaning that for many, the first public view was this hot air balloon-themed look that appeared on Monday. Ina Fried/CNET

Microsoft's Bing search engine has started to become publicly available, allowing the world to decide whether the company's latest effort has the goods to take on Google.

The engine, which replaces Live Search, debuted Thursday at the D: All Things Digital conference and is slated to be fully available by Wednesday. (Microsoft said it would start becoming publicly available Monday, but that it wouldn't be fully launched until Wednesday.)

Among the other naming changes that go along with the new search, Live Search Cashback is now Bing Cashback, while technology from Microsoft's Farecast acquisition now powers Bing Travel. Virtual Earth gets a name change (though not an upgrade in my book) and is now Bing Maps for Enterprise.

With Bing, Microsoft is trying to make the case that search today is still an often unsatisfying experience. That is a unique challenge for Microsoft. Although its research shows that most people repeat searches and give up without finding exactly what they are looking for, perceived satisfaction of search is actually pretty high.

To help make the case, Microsoft plans to spend (to borrow a Carol Bartz phrase ) boatloads of money on advertising. Estimates in the advertising trade mags have pegged spending at $80 million to $100 million.

That's key, since very few people currently go out of their way to search using Microsoft's technology. Most Microsoft searches come via MSN, from toolbars and other methods, while just 1 or 2 percent come from people actually typing Live.com into their browser's address bar.

"Nearly 98 percent of the traffic at Live.com is passive (coming from MSN, etc.) and Bing will be an attempt by Microsoft to establish its search offering as a destination Web site with high active traffic," Collins Stewart analyst Sandeep Agarwal said in a research note on Monday. "In our view, though Microsoft's search technologies are ready for prime time, making a call on the success of Bing now will be premature."

One of the things I'll be watching is how content creators react to the new ways that Microsoft pulls content into the search pages. The main results page offers the option to hover over the result for more information, while the product search site repurposes professional reviews, user reviews, and other information directly within product search results.

On the video side, Microsoft allows a live preview of videos from within its search results, also raising some questions of fair use.

Of course, other engines also borrow heavily from the sites they are searching. Don't forget, Google hosts its own cached versions of the pages it searches.

The bigger deal, of course, is whether people take to Bing at all. Microsoft does seem to have generated a good amount of initial buzz, as well as some early positive reviews .

What's your take on Bing? Drop me an e-mail (ina DOT fried AT cnet DOT com), along with your name and hometown, and we'll publish some of the responses later this week.

 

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