Microsoft's new Bing "decision engine," unveiled Thursday by Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, is being positioned as an alternative to the busy, confusing search engines of today.
This more elegant and intuitive approach to search will help consumers distill useful information on commerce-friendly topics such as shopping, travel, health and local business, Microsoft said.
The Redmond, Wash., company has long been trying to boost its share of the Internet search market. Its search tools captured 8.2% of the market, according an April report by comScore. That put Microsoft a distant third behind Google (64.2%) and Yahoo (20.4%).
Its redoubled focus on commerce-related search is probably a reflection of the online advertising market, in which sellers pay more to put their ads in front of consumers who are already shopping.
In spite of the promotional emphasis, the new engine can feel conspicuously Google-like, down to the blue text it uses to display search results. Bing, launching Wednesday, offers a familiar variety of search types -- including video, news, images and maps -- but instead of a plain white background, visitors to the home page are greeted with photographs.
In a sniff at competitors, Microsoft says its search results arrive in a more logical, user-friendly format, "instead of spitting them out in order of popularity." Rather than introducing a revolutionary approach to presenting information, Bing appears to stitch together its own versions of the Web's most popular planning and decision tools -- think Expedia for travel, Yelp for restaurants, Amazon for shopping.
Google also nabbed a share of the new product spotlight Thursday, announcing its Google Wave application, a souped-up instant messaging system that won't be available for several months. With Wave, users will be able to carry on a text-based conversation with several people at the same time and can include photos, videos, maps and documents.