Katherine Boehret

Microsoft Effort to Best Google Yields Results

Google is to search what Kleenex is to tissues. Even if you’re in the habit of using another search engine like Yahoo to look up something online, you probably say you “Googled” it because everyone knows what you mean. Microsoft Corp. is hoping you’ll change your habits and start “Binging” for that which you once Googled.

Last week, Microsoft announced Bing as the name of its new search engine. The company describes Bing as delivering more answers to your search queries directly on the search-results page, so you don’t have to keep hunting around for what you want to find. And, like Google, Bing can be used as a verb.

I’ve been using Bing for more than two weeks now, and this search engine really did retrieve on-target, useful information on the first try. But what I like best about it is that it does so in a user-friendly manner that looks and feels more inviting than Google.

A feature called Hover displays a brief summary of each Web page when your cursor is hovering over the right edge of a link, and this can save you from visiting a useless page. As another time-saving feature, to further save searchers from clicking to another page, Bing answers medical queries by featuring information from the Mayo Clinic at the top of the results page. Videos on Bing start playing when you move your cursor over a thumbnail still image from the video, without requiring you to press play or go to a new page; the videos stop when you mouse elsewhere. A query about a company usually returns its customer-service phone number at the top of the results page. Shopping, restaurant reviews and travel are also significantly enhanced by Bing.

Google isn’t going away. Both search engines stick to plain, white backgrounds and proudly proclaim the total number of results at the top of the page, a competition that Google almost always wins. Google also is steadily delivering more of its own useful data right in the results, but those efforts feel minimal compared with Bing.


A technology called Bing Travel predicts whether an airfare will go up or down in the future.

It’s a given that many people will try Bing once, get frustrated by the unfamiliar environment and switch back to Google. Others will use whatever their Web browser’s search box is set to (Google, for many people) because they don’t know how to change their options or they’re too lazy to do so. Microsoft’s Live Search engine has been replaced by Bing.com.

You can bring up Bing the old-fashioned way by going to Bing.com. This Web page is a perfect example of the search engine’s engaging, attractive style. Bing.com evokes the cover of a glossy magazine with a stunning photo that takes over the page. This photo, usually slightly off-beat and somewhat alluring, changes every day. If you move your cursor across the photo, blurbs filled with interesting text and Web links materialize on-screen to teach you something related to the photo. It’s a shame that many people will never see the Web page because they search using the box built into their browser.

From this home page, you can dive directly into searching videos, like TV shows, news and sports videos, or browsing music by watching music videos arranged by artist, genre and popularity. I browsed through episodes of “The Office” and watched the “People Are Crazy” music video by country singer, Billy Currington.

The Bing results page has a left-side panel called the Explore Pane, which includes suggestions of terms and categories to select. A search for Abraham Lincoln, for example, showed links to speeches, childhood and library — among others. The Explore Pane includes related searches of terms that people searching for the same thing as you also looked up.

The related searches were sometimes helpful, like “Paul McCartney Tour Dates” when I Binged the famed musician. But the related searches also could be confusing, like when I searched for my own name and found “Jan D’Esopo” listed as the top related search suggestion. (D’Esopo is a painter and sculptor who is active in Puerto Rico, according to Wikipedia.)


In a Web search for tennis player Roger Federer, Microsoft’s Bing showed photos and related search terms on the same page.

I tried comparing Bing with Google in side-by-side searches for tennis player Roger Federer. Bing showed me six colorful images of Federer atop its results page, along with an Explore Pane full of links to his biography, posters, quotes, blog and more. The third listed related-search term, “Roger Federer Shirtless,” made me laugh.

Google didn’t automatically embed images of the tennis great on its results page (for that, of course, you have to go to its Image search page), but it did display Federer’s winning score for that day’s French Open match — information that was extremely useful to me.

Bing presents photos in a more eye-pleasing way than Google. The Roger Federer image search on Bing filled the page with images only — none of the messy text descriptions that appear in the same Google search results. By selecting visuals in the top right of the Bing results page, I changed the size of the photos to small, medium, large or detailed. As I moved my cursor over an image, the image popped forward in a larger version with text details.

Microsoft wants people to use Bing for shopping, and the search engine brings product reviews right to the results page, making it look a bit like Amazon, complete with images, ratings and links to online stores. Bing Cashback, a money-rewards program that works with certain items, is less complicated than its confusing predecessor, but it isn’t as clear as it should be.

For people looking up airline flights, Microsoft integrates a technology called Bing Travel into the search. This tool predicts whether a fare will go up or down in the future based on data aggregation and analysis. A built-in tool works similarly with hotels, analyzing data to tell if you’re getting a good deal.

After I got over my initial resistance to Bing’s unfamiliarity, I really enjoyed using it and found that searching with it was less of a chore and more of an interactive experience. Microsoft gives users a true service by bringing rich content directly to the search-results page.

Edited By Walter S. Mossberg

You’ve Come a Long Way, Silicon Valley

December 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm PT

Oh, the Places Your Phone Will Find

December 03, 2013 at 3:14 pm PT

Xbox One: Digital Home Base for the Living Room

November 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm PT

An iPad That’s Mini in Screen Size Only

November 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm PT

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

Walt Mossberg’s Product Guides

Desktop PC’s and Laptops

The Laptops to Buy

Digital Cameras

Digital Cameras Improve Zooms, HD Function