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Microsoft today revealed that its next generation Windows Live Search engine will be branded as Bing, confirming widespread rumors. The service, which is being tested under the codename "Kumo," will replace Windows Live Search later this year, Microsoft says. A public beta is expected June 3.

Of course, Microsoft's search engine has never done particularly well in the market against entrenched competitors like Google and Yahoo!. So the software giant is recasting Bing as a "decision engine" rather than a general search engine, a service that help people make decisions with more confidence. And Microsoft has settled on a number of popular but more complex search types that it says will differentiate it from the competition. These include shopping, travel, news, health, maps, images and video.

"If you need to make a decision, try us first," Microsoft Live Search Director Stefan Weitz told me in a recent briefing. "If you have general searches you need to make, you can use any search engine. But if you want to make a decision with more confidence, Bing can help you save time and money."

The Bing search page is attractive and graphical, and it calls out the vertical search types with which it excels via a list of links. One of the big draws here is that complex searches--where you're shopping for a particular product or trying to book a trip, for example--can take place entirely within the confines of Bing. So rather than click in and out of a Spartan list of links, you can instead do research in-place. Bing's travel experience is particularly well designed and is integrated with the price forecasting capabilities of the Microsoft FareCast service. Likewise, the shopping experience integrates with Microsoft's Cash Back technology, so your PayPal account will automatically be credited if you buy via a CashBack-compatible site.

Bing provides a number of other advantages over the Google's of the world, regardless of the search type. Search results are intelligently trimmed and filtered so that you're not just presented with a mammoth list of mostly-irrelevant links (though you can get to that if you'd prefer). And you can easily filter searches using a sidebar-based list of context-sensitive choices. So if you're searching for, say, a musical act, the service will generate filters like images, songs, lyrics, tickets, merchandise, albums, and videos, as well as a list of relevant related searches, so you can more quickly find what you're looking for.

The search results themselves are also segregated, providing a cleaner and more easily navigated page. Using the preceding example, a search for a musical act will provide a results list that is broken up into sections with the same filters, and you'll see just the several top results in each section, with a link for more results so you dive in further if needed.

The big question, of course, is whether the improvements in Bing--and they are real improvements compared to the increasingly tired-looking Google-type search engines with which we're now all familiar--will be enough to draw away users.

I'll have a lot more to say about Bing in the days ahead, and will provide a full review of the service in time for the public beta on June 3. In the meantime, here are some shots to give you an idea of how Microsoft has evolved its search engine.

Bing Beta
The Bing home page resembles that of Live Search but provides a list of topics for which the service is well-suited.

Bing Beta
If you sign-up for CashBack and logon, any shopping done via the service can auto-credit your PayPal account.

Bing Beta
As with Live Search, the daily image provides informative pop-ups.

Bing Beta
Previous daily images are also available.

Bing Beta
Another daily image.

Bing Beta
A search for "Paris, France" shows the Bing segregated results list and, on the left, context-sensitive result filters.

Bing Beta
"Paris, France" in image search, with the "infinite scroll" feature that provides all of the image results on a single page.

Bing Beta
"Paris, France" in Maps.

Bing Beta
An expanded map view of "Paris, France," integrated into Bing.

Bing Beta
Bird's Eye View of "Paris, France," again integrated into Bing.

Bing Beta
Bing video search.

Bing Beta
It's not obvious from this shot, but when you hover over video thumbnails, they play inside the thumbnail.

Continue to Part 2...

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