Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

Summary: Microsoft's Bing search engine is one of the Microsoft products that Redmond's shareholders -- not to mention many Wall Streeters who watch Microsoft -- love to hate. But Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is bullish on Bing. Here's why.

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Microsoft's Bing search engine is one of the Microsoft products that Redmond's shareholders -- not to mention many Wall Streeters who watch Microsoft -- love to hate.

But Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is bullish on Bing. During his opening remarks at the company's Imagine Cup competition on July 7, Ballmer told those in attendance, in no uncertain terms, why he's not giving up on Bing, in spite of the fact that its parent, the Online Services Division, continues to lose money, hand over fist. Ballmer's reasoning may surprise those who think it's just Google Search envy powering Ballmer's Bing obsession.

Calling Bing "amongst the things I'm most excited about at Microsoft," Ballmer had this to say about coming natural-language search role he expects Bing to help fill in the future:

"(T)here's a lot in Bing that I think represents the future of information technology.

"The real holy grail of what we all need to do is transform these machines so they understand you and what you mean. You ought to be able to say to your computer, verbally, type it, I don't care, 'Get me ready for my trip to the Imagine Cup.' That ought to mean something to these systems. It means nothing today.

"I'll give you another one that's even funnier. If you go to a search engine today and you say, 'Print my boarding pass on Southwest,' you'll get nothing back but chaos. The truth of the matter is, computers, search engines, nothing really understands verbs today. We only understand nouns. And yet, most of us as human beings want to command these systems to do something for us. And the core technology we're developing to understand and try to simulate the world of users and what they're interested in, and how they want to get it done is all being done in Bing."

The scenarios Ballmer is outlining -- computers that understand verbs -- require better speech understanding than is currently available to most users. But don't forget: Microsoft has a few different speech-processing technologies in the hopper. There's the Tellme speech technology that Microsoft acquired when it bought Tellme Networks in 2007. Tellme already allows Windows users to set up their PCs to respond to limited spoken commands and to dictate and edit text in a handful of languages.

But there's also the Kinect sensor. Microsoft already has shown off how the next version of the Xbox dashboard will allow users to say "Xbox Bing" to search using voice commands. Microsoft is preparing to release a commercial version of the Kinect software development kit (SDK) that will allow PC applications to be powered by Kinect. (A beta of the hobbyist version of that SDK is already out.)

The Bing team has been working with Microsoft Research to improve Bing's inherent natural-language-search capabilities, and earlier this year showed off some rudimentary results with Bing Shopping. In the U.S. only and using Bing Shopping only, users can do voice searches that are price-constrained ("Show me Sony cameras under $200"). So far there's been no word on when/how Microsoft is planning to extend this natural-language voice search in Bing.

Microsoft isn't the only company attempting to harness natural-language capabilities and use them in conjunction with bigger data sets. eWeek reported recently on IBM's plans to use its Watson technology to build an internal system that its sales people could use to answer questions. Watson makes use of advanced natural language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation and reasoning, and machine learning technologies to answer questions.

Both Microsoft and IBM are racing to harness all the big data they're amassing. Microsoft sees Bing as the front end/user interface for getting at that data, while IBM seems to be focusing on vertically-focused interfaces that make use of its Deep Q&A engine inside Watson.

More from the Microsoft Partner Conference:

Windows 8 will run on all Windows 7 PCs (and Vista PCs too)

Microsoft: 400 million Windows 7 and 100 million Office 2010 licenses sold

Microsoft: In a year, Windows Phone has gone from very small to ... very small

Microsoft makes it official: New beta of Windows Intune 2.0 available

Third test build of Microsoft's SQL Server 'Denali' expected this week

What's on Steve Ballmer's Microsoft priority list now?

Microsoft to deliver Surface 2.0 software developer kit on July 12

Topics: Browser, CXO, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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116 comments
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  • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

    Now all Ballmer ought to do, would be to make Bing actually useable in Europe. With Bing currently being branded, and more or less limited, to the American market, Microsoft is missing out on over 50% of the market that Google (Search) is active on.
    windcape
    • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

      @windcape
      Actually Asia represents over 50% of the global market and Bing is conspicuous here by its absence. This is doubly true in China where Google have totally blown it and Microsoft have an open goal in front of them.
      Major Plonquer
      • On a smarthphone ... try using the speech to text

        functionality with Bing... what you get is JUNK.

        On the other hand what you get with Android is the same as what you have typed with your hands.

        Anybody that prefers Bing or considers Bing useful just likes JUNK for results.
        Uralbas
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @Uralbas - My experience has been different. I spoke into my WP7 device to find a resturant and it worked flawlessly. Since then I've used it two times and it worked better than expected each time. I'm really looking forward to the day when we can do this with other tech devices.
        NPGMBR
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @Uralbas

        I've had the exact opposite experience. A few friends and I tested out the speech features on an iPhone 4, a Samsung Captivate, a Droid X, and an HTC Surround. The Surround never messed up once, the Android phones were usually pretty accurate, and the iPhone was way off half the time.

        I've never had to dial anyone on my WP7. Every friend's name has worked perfectly for me, every time.
        vel0city
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @Major Plonquer Actuallyy Google didn't "bow it", but instead listened to their own ethical beliefs. They would not bow to China's demands for censorship. Google is better for that decision. Shame on those who play ball by China's rules.
        bobinbc
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @Uralbas
        My experience is totally different from yours with voice enabled searches. Whether it is bing on WP7 or Google on Android devices, it is excellent. I had driven to a lot of places using my WP7 and Android devices using voice enabled searches, and never faced any trouble in finding out the exact thing I was looking for. Please try one before saying bad about some technology that you don't like next time, please.
        Ram U
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @Uralbas While I'm not up with Window Phone 7 on Windows Mobile the absolute best part of it was the integration of the Microsoft Voice Command throughout the OS - I could call anyone, open apps, whatever by using my voice. NO OTHER smartphone since - not my iPhone, not my Blackberry, not Android has been able to integrate voice command at that level. Honestly that is the only thing I miss about the WM platform and one of my very few gripes about the iOS platform.
        athynz
      • bobinbc....please, how many years was Google bowing to China?

        that's just nonsense. You are essentially saying Google FINALLY found Jesus or the like.
        They were there, promoting China's censorship for the $$$ for most of a decade. Now you are saying they have ethics??
        You can be sure that what Google did in China was publicity stunt of somekind aimed at trying to scratch and claw their way back to some level of ethics after being totally void of any for 10 years. You can't honestly be buying that, can you?
        Google would back over your Grandmother to make a buck, please wake up and smell the coffee. They do nothing w/o the goal of making money as the end result. Sure they try to put on a guise of "do no evil" but that motto died off within the first year after they started using it all of those years ago.
        Google and moreso Apple, who both use open source, have been harmful to open source in the long run. Apple, specifically Jobs, has done nothing but use open source projects for his own gains and dropped them or left them in limbo after he gets what he wants for his Proprietary systems. The original openDarwin team is a glaring example. Jobs used them to build out GCD and blocks in C in return for a promise he would back the existence of a full blown openDarwin system, but as soon as he got what he needed he left that team hanging, with a don't call us, we'll call you message and they entire team quit in disgust of being used by Steve Jobs, not even close to a full workable open version of the OS. But Jobs got what he wanted. I don't see how open source continually falls for that kind of thing, because Google does basically the same thing.
        They are not going to release their internal Linux OS code to the world anytime soon and most of the main products are closed source. Even the old Google desktop was mostly closed. Anyone that downloaded the code for it soon found out how much was missing.
        Their search engine based on Linux is closed and pretty much a monopoly but there is no public outcry for them to open up that code. Why not? Why did the open source world stomp their feet and scream foul about Windows being closed yet say nothing about Google or Apple.
        It makes no sense.
        It reminds me of the small business owners that are die hard conservatives. I mean I respect their beliefs, but many of them actually believe the BS the Repubs are giving them about the money they pay in taxes being THEIR money and they never seem to realize that they are not the ones getting the tax breaks, and under the Dems they are much more likely to see tax breaks at their income levels.
        I think the open source world is similarly fooled into thinking those who claim to be on their side, truely are. How can people be so blind to the reality?
        xuniL_z
    • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

      @windcape

      Have no problem in Australia, switched to Bing long ago.
      tonymcs@...
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @tonymcs@... same here
        ozinanoypi
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @tonymcs@...

        and here.
        bannedagain
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @tonymcs@...
        also here
        codeplay
  • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

    ?Print my boarding pass on Southwest?

    Chaos indeed, the very first hit is "Southwest Airlines - Checkin Online and Print Boarding Passes"
    mohmaaytah
    • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

      @mohmaaytah

      Yeah I tried that too, classic how it works perfectly in Google...
      ALISON SMOCK
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @ALISON SMOCK
        Tried on Bing and it worked exactly the same.
        mytake4this
    • Yes thats the trivial part. But did it check in for you and print your

      boarding pass? No. Ballmer wants Bing to evolve into more than just a simple search engine. Thats the hard part...
      Johnny Vegas
      • RE: Why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is so bullish on Bing

        @Johnny Vegas See, that would require giving Bing/Microsoft your private information...ya know, the stuff everybody's blasting google about?
        Aerowind
      • Why?

        @ Aerowind

        Software that can parse natural language more effectively can get better results without knowing more about you. In fact, for a given response quality, the more information it can extract from the query, the less it needs to know about you.

        At any rate, Microsoft's record on privacy isn't particularly good, but it's a lot better than Google's. Moreover, firms tend to listen to their paying customers. For Microsoft, that's those of us who use Microsoft software. For Google, it's people who use Google's advertising services (and not people who use Google's software).
        WilErz
      • LOL

        @Johnny Vegas Sweaty monkey dancing boy a tech visionary all of a sudden? I don't think so! He's just parroting something Sinofsky told him to make him look smart. Ballmer's true calling is selling used cars.
        MSFTWorshipper