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Microsoft Formally Launches Bing Search Engine

Software maker seeks to challenge Google's dominance with introduction of functional search tools.

Microsoft on Thursday stepped up efforts to close the gap with rival Google in the lucrative online search business. As expected, the software maker formally unveiled its Bing search engine, which the company said offers "a new approach to Internet search."

Bing, according to Microsoft, delivers 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.com for, say, hotels in Dubai, coughs up real-time pricing and availability information for those hotels, 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.

"Today, search engines do a decent job of helping people navigate the Web and find information," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement. "When we set out to build Bing, we grounded ourselves in a deep understanding of how people really want to use the Web."

With Bing, Microsoft is hoping to catch up to Google in search market share. But it's got its work cut out. 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.

Some analysts are questioning Microsoft's launch strategy around Bing. The company announced Bing at the D: All Things Digital conference in Dallas on Thursday, but the search engine does not go live until next week.

"With so much riding on Bing, why is Microsoft offering a six-day gap between announcement and launch? Such a lag can only lead to the spread of misinformation and a potential flow of negative comments across the vast social media grid prior to launch," Gartner analyst Allen Weiner said in a blog post.

"And why announce Bing at a conference geared for the cognoscenti? Ultimately, it is the consumer who decides," wrote Weiner.

Still, Microsoft is confident Bing will, at the very least, boost its presence in the search market. The company 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 all enough to dint Google's commanding share of the search market remains to be seen. For now at least, Ballmer is upbeat on the effort. "Bing is an important first step forward in our long-term effort to deliver innovations in search that enable people to find information quickly and use the information they've found to accomplish tasks and make smart decisions," he said.


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