Bing me up, Ballmer: An also-ran search engine is changing the Xbox, Windows, and Microsoft
There's a lot to like about Bing. Microsoft's search engine, which comScore reports as having 17.4 percent of the "explicit core search market," is visually pleasing, returns perfectly adequate results, and would probably be more popular if Google hadn't became a verb -- and created an entire ecosystem around the "core" search engine. Google is more than a search engine, it's an entire product suite against which Bing simply couldn't compete.
Microsoft is trying to change that. As the company has made clear at its Build developer conference, Bing is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the company's products, from the company's online tools to the Xbox One and Windows. Bing used to be a destination -- now, like Google search, it's going to be a platform upon which many of Microsoft's products are built.
"We’ve woven together Bing’s massive worldwide indexing technology infrastructure with [third-party] applications and data combined with intelligent services derived from years of work from MS Research and the Bing teams to enable the next-generation of app experiences," writes Gurdeep Singh Pall, the corporate vice president of Bing. "For us, the future of search is not about more search boxes – it’s about building a platform to enable applications and devices to empower people with knowledge and help them do more -- not just search more."
Bing is the tool that allows the Xbox One to respond to your voice and wild gesticulating. Bing is the service that will make the Web an integral part of the Windows operating system. Bing is the online platform that offers Web and image search tools, a mapping tool, and a number of Web apps included with the Office365 productivity suite. Bing is the set of developer tools that will allow devs to build voice search, maps, optical character recognition (OCR), and translation tools into their Windows and Windows Phone applications. Bing is, alongside Windows Azure, SkyDrive, and Office365, Microsoft's way of embracing the Web-enabled, hyper-connected world in which we live.
Windows wasn't made for a world dominated by the Web. Microsoft released the operating system during a time when computers were off-beige boxes with black-and-white interfaces that allowed you to accomplish mundane tasks a little bit quicker. Nobody had a smartphone in their pocket, nobody was frantically searching for a Starbucks so they could use their wireless connection to get some work done, and nobody was using "the cloud" to refer to anything that couldn't be preceded by "cumulus" or "nimbus." Microsoft had built its empire during a different time and, now that we are all perpetually surrounded by the Web, has tried to adjust its products accordingly.
There's a reason why the company has been placing so much emphasis on SkyDrive, its online sync service, when it talks about new products. There's a reason why it demonstrated "Project Spark," an online service-slash-game, at the E3 videogame conference and Build developer conference. There's a reason why the recently-released Office for iPhone application requires an Office365 subscription. And there's a reason why it wanted the Xbox One to be connected to the Internet as often as possible, even if it later capitulated to consumer complaints and reversed many of its cloud-dependent policies. 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.