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Microsoft's Bing team turns to apps for mobile and gaming

Microsoft's Online services division is working on more than search and advertising. It's now a consumer app-development shop, too.

Microsoft's Online Services Division (OSD) is the home of the Bing search platform, MSN and Microsoft advertising. But it's also where a couple of hundred developers are working full-time on writing apps for Windows 8 tablets, Windows Phones and the Xbox gaming console.


This team -- known as AppEx (Application Experiences) -- is the one that built the news, travel, finance, weather, sports and maps applications that have shipped as part of the Windows 8 test builds. They're using primarily (but not exclusively) HTML5 and JavaScipt to build showcase apps that may (but don't have to) include Bing and MSN data and elements. The AppEx deliverables are meant to visibly demonstrate to customers and other developers what the Metro/modern/Windows 8 (pick your branding poison) experience is all about.

The head of the AppEx team is Online Services Corporate Vice President Brian MacDonald. MacDonald heads up Online Services program management and head of the Bing core engineering team. MacDonald also has application experience. Ironically, in a previous life at Microsoft, MacDonald ran the NetDocs team. That team was building an Internet-centric office suite, which Microsoft ultimately scuttled because it would compete with Microsoft Office.

Why is a group inside Bing focusing on apps instead of search algorithms? The answer lies in the big data/cloud assets that have amassed around Bing, said Adam Sohn Bing's General Manager.

AS we built a search service, "along the way, we've created a key big data/cloud asset for the company," Sohn said.

One of the first ways the company tapped into that asset was with Windows Phone. The Windows Phone Bing team developed Local Scout on top of Bing, and the Bing team, a version of Bing Maps for the phone. And with both the phone and Windows 8, customers could benefit from experiences powered by the cloud in the back and content we built with things like MSN on the front end, Sohn explained.

In Online Services, "We want to use assets we've built to make other Microsoft products more compelling," Sohn said.

Another of those Online Services division assets which will likely find its way into more AppEx apps could be search. A couple of years ago, Microsoft moved its speech team from the Entertainment and Devices unit to Online Services.

It sounds like the first few AppEx apps are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Microsoft "first-party" consumer apps. While more Windows 8 apps are likely in the team's future, not every app produced by this team will necessarily be for Microsoft platforms only. The team has done some early work on creating a Bing app for iPhones and iPads. More cross-platform apps may be in the pipeline.