Microsoft unveils 'Bing' search engine

The company shows off a rebranded, enhanced service designed to provide decision support

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has unveiled Bing, the company's revamped search engine and a key component in its online strategy.

Ballmer gave the new service its first public demonstration at the All Things Digital conference in San Diego on Thursday, with the company saying a global version would be rolled out immediately to replace the Live Search service. This rollout is scheduled to be completed by 3 June worldwide, with localised variants appearing later.

Microsoft UK said in a press release that the UK version of Bing would be launching as a beta product, with new features being developed over the next six to 12 months at the company's Search Technology Centre in London.

In the statement, Paul Stoddart, Microsoft UK search lead, said: "Bing is being built in the UK over the next six to 12 months based on consumer insights and is designed to help people find the shortest distance from their initial Search query to the point of making an informed decision."

The company is calling Bing a "decision engine" rather than a search engine, and is including various pre-configured search categories such as shopping, travel, healthcare and local, together with a fully integrated version of its Virtual Earth mapping system, live flight data, a five-day weather forecast and company contact information.

Microsoft said in a press release that the new service included improvements in "core search areas, including entity extraction and expansion, query intent recognition and document summarisation technology as well as a new user experience model that dynamically adapts to the type of query to provide relevant and intuitive decision-making tools".

June will also see the start of what industry magazine Advertising Age reports will be $80m-$100m spending on advertising for the new search engine.

Industry commentators gave the new service a cautious welcome. "Bing is an improvement in many ways over previous Microsoft search efforts. It looks better, and is a clearly defined product. Live search was confusing. [Microsoft has now] created a more marketable package with a very definable goal," Gartner analyst Allen Weiner told ZDNet UK.

Weiner added: "They want Bing to become a verb, like Google has. They've highlighted some key areas where they're going above the concept of 10 blue links. But, [even] if the marketing campaign is successful, will the product be better than its competitors? Trying it once is easier than getting them to use it regularly. Maybe not for all of the searches, but for some — that's the goal."

Weiner pointed out that Microsoft has not said what it would count as success, nor what it would do if it did not reach its goals. "The biggest question overall is: how much traction do they need to get, and over what period of time? Will it be five percent of search traffic by the end of the month, or end of the year? If they don't hit that goal, what next? Will they try again?"