mean-girls-bing-fetchWhat’s the difference between Bing and “fetch,” the horrific slang that “Mean Girls” mocked for its inability to gain any traction with teens? Well, according to FiveThirtyEight, fetch is actually growing in popularity. Bing, on the other hand, is still operating in Google’s shadow.

Microsoft is hoping to change that with a new version of the Windows operating system that will come with Bing pre-selected as Internet Explorer’s default search engine. The company is offering this software — unimaginatively called “Windows 8.1 with Bing” — to manufacturers in the hopes that it will convince them to make low-cost Windows products while making its oft-mocked search engine more popular by virtue of being a default setting few will change.

Consumers will technically be allowed to change Internet Explorer’s default search engine, mostly because Microsoft has a history of getting in trouble when it doesn’t give consumers fair access to competitive products, but it’s unlikely that most Windows 8.1 with Bing users will bother to switch. Bing is good enough for most people, and it’s hard to overstate the power associated with being pre-installed on a device. I’m sure that Microsoft would prefer for people to adopt the search engine with their own free will, but this pre-selection will work in a pinch.

Microsoft’s commitment to Bing isn’t surprising. The company has used the search engine and its associated technologies to improve its products for the last few years. As I wrote back when Steve Ballmer was the company’s chief executive and Bing was starting to become an integral part of any product with the Microsoft, Xbox, or Windows logos stamped somewhere on them:

Microsoft, like any other company that hasn’t buried its head in the sand and convinced itself that people don’t really need the Web, recognizes that it needs to update its products — and introduce new ones — in order to remain relevant.

Bing has become an important aspect of that shift. It’s no longer an also-ran search engine defined mostly by the prevailing rumor that its name stands for “because it’s not Google.” While it might not become as popular as Google as a destination on the Web, it has the opportunity to become an integral aspect of the way consumers interact with Windows, the Xbox platform, Windows Phone, and Microsoft’s other products. You don’t have to know that Bing is the reason why you can talk to your Xbox, or why Windows isn’t as self-contained as it was before — the only thing that matters is that those things happen, and Microsoft has made it clear that they will, or so it hopes.

Now it seems that Microsoft isn’t content with Bing providing some back-end support for its other products. It wants to make the search engine more popular, it wants to encourage manufacturers to make low-end Windows products, and it wants to do so without getting another antitrust lawsuit thrown its way. Releasing this operating system allows the company to achieve all of those goals — even if many people are still unhappy with the new Windows. Who knows? Maybe this will finally push Bing over the edge and make it a real contender.

That would be so fetch.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]