Maybe it's the effectiveness of the Macintosh ads painting Microsoft as hopelessly square. Maybe it's landmark antitrust lawsuits a few years ago that seemed to cast Microsoft as the evil empire.
Whatever the reason, for me, it's always a little painful to watch Microsoft try to break into a market dominated by "the cool kids." So with last week's unveiling of Bing -- Microsoft's search-engine answer to Google -- it was easy to imagine the skeptical faces of tech journalists, smirking while poised to spill some unflattering virtual ink.
But something surprising happened: Last week, when tech-savvy journalists (unlike myself) were given a sneak peak, their response was one of pleasant surprise.
"I planned to write this story with the headline, 'Bing isn't Better,' but the new engine won me over," confessed CNet editor Rafe Needleman in an article titled "Microsoft Bing: Much Better Than Expected."
"Microsoft Bing has (Apple co-founder) Steve Wozniak Impressed!" exclaimed an incredulous TechWhack News.
Bing was first made available to a select few reviewers last week, but was launched this week for the general public. Not all the reviews have been raves, and my own layman's take on the search engine is mixed.
But first, a rundown of the product.
In a nutshell, Microsoft wants Bing to be used as a noun, a verb and a brand name -- just like we've come to use Google. In doing so, it attempts to be every bit the search engine that Google is, and then some. The "then some," in this case, is what the company refers to as a "decision engine."
This means Bing, which replaces the drably-named Live Search, is attempting to help people to not only find what is out there, but also make decisions about which restaurants to select, which hotels to reserve, which plane tickets to purchase, and so on.
In general, the consensus among the experts seems to be that while Bing probably won't replace Google as the dominant search engine anytime soon, it's a solid product, and the competition is a healthy thing.
"Google is a wonderful tool, but it's like getting all your news from CNN, your coffee only from Starbucks or your operating systems only from Microsoft," writes Seattle Times columnist technologybrierdudleysblog/" target="_blank">Brier Dudley.
By my reading, the product's standout feature is the so-called decision engine, which would come in handy when searching for, say, a hotel room.
On Google, such a search turns up a list of hotels that lead the user's mouse directly to each hotel's Web site -- hardly an unbiased source of information. By contrast, Bing shepherds users to an intermediate page that provides a kind of at-a-glance overview, complete with easy-to-read price summaries, amenities and bar graphs depicting the general favorability ratings among users.
This helpful meta-review is similar in some ways to the concept behind the consolidation and quantification of movie critiques made famous by Metacritic.com.
Google does have a "user review" page, but this is just a collection of all the reviews ever written, without the dashboard overview that affords a user-friendly snapshot of any given hotel's overall popularity.
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