Microsoft's Bing make-over: Back-end services take center stage

Microsoft's Bing make-over: Back-end services take center stage

Summary: Bing as a developer platform is interesting. But it's the back-end services powering Bing that are a key part of Microsoft's mission to reposition itself as a devices and services company.


As Microsoft has integrated Bing into more and more of its products over the past few years, it has become increasingly clear that Microsoft execs are looking at Bing as more than just a second-place Web search engine.


Last week, the Softies finally said it officially: Bing is also a developer platform.

But the newest and most interesting piece here isn't the dev platform part. The real focal point is the back-end services powering the Bing development platform. These services are yet another key to Microsoft's effort to morph from software company to a devices and services one.

Microsoft has been encouraging developers to license its mapping, speech, translation and various other search-related application programming interfaces (APIs) for years with mixed success. Going forward, Microsoft's pitch to developers is that they can embed not just a set of static APIs and controls, but the continuously updated logic and data powering them.

Some of Microsoft's own product teams are already using these Bing API-plus-service packages. The Bing search experience in Windows 8.1, for example, is making use of a number of the Bing APIs and controls, plus the services powering these elements. And some of the recently announced Microsoft AppEx applications — like the Health & Fitness one that's been announced for Windows 8.1 — do, as well. The Bing search engine itself is powered by these services, too, company officials said.

"We've had [licensable] Bing Search, maps and other APIs for a while," explained Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Bing. "What we are doing now is showing how you can integrate things outside of search into your overall experience. We've pivoted Bing in this new way."

Another way of explaining this Bing make-over is that Microsoft is looking to give developers access to its own machine-learning assets — the logic, context and relevance that are designed to keep the controls and APIs fresh.

The key building blocks of this "intelligent fabric," as Microsoft execs have taken to referring to the back-end services, include its Bing "Satori" knowledge base, natural user interface (NUI) and geospatial/context awareness technologies.

Here's how Microsoft is describing this new "fabric," via a Bing blog post from last week:

"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. 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."

Microsoft's new pitch around Bing is that developers are really building tasks and experiences rather than traditional software apps these days. Being able to create these kinds of experiences using always-updating components is Microsoft's new differentiator.

Bing maps are now more akin to an embeddable Bing mapping service, Bing Translator is more like an always up-to-date translation service, and the recently demonstrated Bing optical character recognition component is actually an OCR/scanning service.

Some of the new Bing services available now and/or soon to developers from the updated Bing Developer Center:

  • Bing Entity API: Provides a more unified way for developers to access data about people, places, and things (think knowledge graph on steroids)

  • OCR Control: Allows integration of Microsoft's cloud-based visual-recognition capabilities

  • Bing Translator Control: Allows apps to detect text and deliver automatic machine translation in various languages

  • Speech Control: Allows developers to include voice recognition (works on Windows 8.1 and above)

  • Bing Text-to-Speech API: Allows apps to "speak" to users (also for Windows 8.1 and above)

  • Bing Maps Software Development Kit (SDK): New version for Windows 8.1 provides mapping, routing, and traffic data for Windows Store apps

  • Bing Maps 3D SDK: Allows developers to build 3D mapping support into their apps (Windows 8.1 and beyond)

Microsoft officials didn't have much to share yet as to how the licensing model evolves and changes for developers who want to license the new Bing APIs and services. (A few of those on the list above are available in the Windows Azure Marketplace as "subscriptions," which can be used in conjunction with the API/SDK elements.)

If the price and terms are right, Microsoft could be on its way to finding a way to monetize Bing better than it has to date. What do you say, developers? Does Microsoft's newest Bing pitch interest you?

Topics: Cloud, Emerging Tech, Microsoft, Software Development


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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  • Creating A Content Supscription Ecosystem

    I believe it is important that MS create a content subscription ecosystem. This will do several things. MS would be able to provide a host of services to developers / content providers, these groups would find indispensable; there would be an infrastructure in place for the groups to pay for the MS services; it would provide a more lucrative alternative to the web to make money from content; and it would make MS client OSs invaluable.

    I believe MS should essentially create an ecosystem for simple to advanced ebooks, eperiodicals, analogs to web sites where content is updated in real time with news, etc. In such an ecosystem, MS could provide: tools for content creation; hosting services; Bing search, mapping, text to speech, etc. services; telecommunication services; advertising services, etc. If MS provides a form of exclusive, or at least unique access, to the content on Windows platforms, I believe this would make the Windows platform in the consumer and business markets highly valuable. (Note: the above would not prevent content owners from publishing to other platforms, MS would just provide a high value platform on Windows for the content.) So the idea is to create an alternative platform to the web for content providers, which promises higher revenue for content providers, and more valuable and superior user experiences to consumers.

    One thing I hope people at MS remember, is the importance of its Windows client platforms. Platforms are extremely important, because they allow for the creation of whole ecosystems. Ecosystems generate a huge amount of wealth, and they are more valuable than services / software, because, among other things, they ensure customers have access to your services / software. E.g. Bing would be dead without Windows, because getting customers to access it in meaningful numbers on Android and iOS would be nearly impossible. Therefore do not allow people to lull you into thinking that offering services indiscriminately (in particular without regard for how this impacts your client platforms) is fine. Your client platforms are invaluable to you now, and will remain that way in the future, and they are ultimately more important than your services. Therefore notions like in the future, being able to stream all Xbox Live services (including games) to any screen, presumably on any client, where the client becomes irrelevant, are dangerous. You need your client platforms to preserve and grow your ecosystems, and you also need them to ensure you maintain access to your customers, and so that you can sell your devices.
    P. Douglas
    • TL;DR version

      Blah blah blah blah.
  • Acronyms

    When Bing was introduced, some wags suggested Bing was an acronym = Bing Is Not Google.

    Several years later, it's still true. I have taken the Bing Challenge a few times, and each time Bing failed miserably. I'm sure it's better than Google for finding some things, but apparently they aren't the types of things that I search for. Microsoft developers have a long way to go....
    • Just about had my fill of this nonsense.

      Your comment contains words or phrases associated with spam and will not appear on the site until it has been checked by a moderator.

      Your an IT website. Figure out how to fix this issue.
      • Track Spammers by IP Address

        Can't Zdnet track spammers by their IP addresses and block them that way? These filters are discouraging comments and reducing the site's ad revenue.
        P. Douglas
    • YMMV

      I tend to use Bing most of the time now, I prefer accurate, organic results to the paid for fodder from Google, seems more accurate to me
  • alternative

    Here's an alternative for those who don't want to be tracked: Startpage

    They don't keep anything about anybody. Period. Since they have no client data, they can't be forced by the world's governments to hand it over.

    Look it up and try it.
  • Office 365 is a ripoff

    If you think about it, Office University 2010 was only $80, you could install it once, on one PC, and use it forever. Now, with Office University 365, even though it is the same price, you only get to use it for 4 years, and once those 4 years are up, you don't have the software license anymore.
    Richard Estes
    • Wow

      You do know this article is about Bing, right?
      Michael Alan Goff
  • Pushing the envelope

    MSF is creating a deeper divide between itself, Apple and Google. I am still waiting for the personal computing device that will empower and support this evolutionary step forward.
  • How do they compare with Google services?

    A review comparing the Maps, Translation et al services from MS and Google would be interesting!