Bing getting a fall refresh

Microsoft's search engine is getting improved preview results as well as some new health information licensed from Wolfram's Alpha.

Unlike when you stand over your coworker's desk, Microsoft's Bing search engine actually works better when you hover.

One of the key features of the would-be rival to Google is that when you hover to the right of a result, you can get a preview of what to expect. As part of an update this week, Bing's hover result will now feature more information including a thumbnail preview of the site in question.

Bing taps Wolfram Alpha
Microsoft is using Wolfram Alpha to help power certain results, such as this search for the fat content of french fries. CNET News

One of the ongoing challenges for Bing, besides just getting more people to use the site, is letting them know that the hover feature is there. Microsoft's research has shown it gets high usage from those who know about it, but also finds that lots of people don't know the feature is there. Microsoft has been experimenting with some different visual cues that might make it easier to stumble upon the previews.

The hover feature was developed by the San Francisco-based team that Microsoft acquired as part of last year's acquisition of Powerset . Powerset, which developed a semantic search technology, also powers Bing's index of Wikipedia.

Bing's fall update update also includes the first fruits of a deal with Wolfram Alpha . As part of that arrangement, certain health related searches, such as "how many calories in a hamburger" will now feature information from Alpha. Bing will also rely on Alpha for some math calculations, Microsoft said in a blog posting on Wednesday. Wolfram noted that Microsoft is one of the first customers for a commercial licensing program that was formally announced several weeks ago.

Other changes to Bing include improved local results for topics such as weather and events.

It's all part of a wave of updates Microsoft is making to Bing this week. On Tuesday, Microsoft said it is moving its MSN Video site under the Bing umbrella , with a new video page that can be used to watch videos from places like Hulu and elsewhere.

The company also announced some enhancements to Bing Maps, including the ability to use the mouse to alter a suggested route and have one's directions re-calculated.

The improvements come as Microsoft is looking for ways to stand out from Google as it tries to wrest share from its much larger rival . The software maker has seen a modest uptick but faces steep hurdles in trying to make more significant gains.

Experian Hitwise said Wednesday that Bing's share reached 9.57 percent in October. That's up from 8.96 percent in September, but still well behind Google, which had more than 70 percent and Yahoo, with 16 percent of the U.S. search query market.

While adding features is clearly important, trying to stay ahead in the search game can be quite a challenge. Just hours after Microsoft announced a deal last month to index real-time tweets from Twitter , Google announced plans to do the same .

Microsoft has also gotten some unwanted attention for one of its features--the Bing Cashback program--where users can get a portion of their online transactions rebated by starting off on Bing. A blog posting outlined a flaw in the mechanism that could allow people to get cash back without ever spending money via Bing.

That posting was pulled after a demand from Microsoft's lawyers.

 

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