Bing.com has gone live earlier than , but it's still in beta and still in pieces: it takes a little jiggery-pokery with your location to access several features. Clever features, granted, but quite a few of them look suspiciously familiar.
Change your location (in the top right) to the US and you'll suddenly get access to more features, such as improved shopping and travel options. Done that? Right then, dive in. There's plenty to like: it's handy having our search history listing down the left-hand side, and we were looking forward to being able to hover over a link and get a preview.
Only now we discover that preview is a just a small text box, with little in the way of context. We've seen the idea of previews implemented elsewhere much better, and it got us thinking we've seen a few of Bing's features before -- but does Bing do them better?
Mouseover link previews: CoolPreviews
Bing's small text boxes aren't a patch on the full-sized previews afforded by Firefox extension CoolPreviews. Hover over any link and you get a preview box complete with images, on any site -- not just search-engine results.
Image notes: Flickr
Hover over certain points in Bing's home page wallpaper, and small clear squares will appear, each of which pops up a text note. Just like Flickr. Each includes a link to a relevant Bing search: today's image, of hot-air balloons over Cappadocia, Turkey, includes history, geography and news* for the area, and even links to trying out your own hot-air balloon ride.
*With exquisite irony, the top news hit is 'Cappadocia balloon crash may have been caused by pressure from tourist trade'.
One of the much-trumpeted aspects of Bing was its integration with other services. Disappointingly, the integration currently amounts to bodily picking you up and shifting you over to that service. The shopping tab simply shunts you to Ciao. The maps tab takes you to Multimap. To return to Bing, you have to click the back button.
That's not integration in our book, and there's no sense that you're drawing on the entire Web, just Microsoft's corners of it. Incidentally, Multimap couldn't find Wembley Stadium even when we gave it the address.
Pretty much everything else: Google
Searching for a particular type of service, like for example a tapas restaurant in London, Bing gave us first a shortlist of individual tapas restaurants, with phone numbers, all shown on a thumbnail map. That was followed by links to listings sites, some of which were the entry for a specific eatery with tapas in its name, and others with general guides to tapas restaurants. In other words, exactly what Google does.
The fancy wallpapered home page may be a million miles from Google's famously minimal design, but that's not the case with the results. Where are the categorised links? Where's the revolutionary new paradigm in search-result organisation? Once we'd hit search we were hard-pressed to tell the difference. Sponsored results in a pale yellow box at the top? Check. A list of blue results with green links underneath? Check. Ad links on the right? Check. Web, images, videos, maps and more in text tabs at the top? Check, check, checkity-check check.
All this said, Bing is still in beta. There's a fistful of good ideas here, no matter where they're borrowed from. The concept of a search engine that pulls together features previously scattered around services and sites is an enticing one, and Crave is definitely going to watch with interest.