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May 28, 2009

Microsoft revamps Live Search, renames it Bing

Posted by David Hunter at 1:05 PM ET.

Today Microsoft unveiled its latest attempt at arresting its decline in Internet search with an enhanced Live Search rebranded as Bing:

Microsoft Corp. today unveiled Bing, a new Decision Engine and consumer brand, providing customers with a first step in moving beyond search to help make faster, more informed decisions. Bing is specifically designed to build on the benefits of today’s search engines but begins to move beyond this experience with a new approach to user experience and intuitive tools to help customers make better decisions, focusing initially on four key vertical areas: making a purchase decision, planning a trip, researching a health condition or finding a local business.

The result of this new approach is an important beginning for a new and more powerful kind of search service, which Microsoft is calling a Decision Engine, designed to empower people to gain insight and knowledge from the Web, moving more quickly to important decisions. The new service, located at http://www.Bing.com, will begin to roll out over the coming days and will be fully deployed worldwide on Wednesday, June 3.

The "decision engine" approach seems to be an an attempt to sidestep the Internet search titans of Google and Yahoo by claiming to provide a different service and experience. Don’t expect general decision making assistance however:

Microsoft’s research identified shopping, travel, local business and information, and health-related research as areas in which people wanted more assistance in making key decisions. The current state of Internet search isn’t optimized for these tasks, but the Bing Decision Engine is optimized for these key customer scenarios.

The areas identified are also ones where a lot of ads can be sold too, of course, and Microsoft can also rope in some of their other properties:

Microsoft’s mapping platform, Virtual Earth, will now be branded as Bing Maps for Enterprise. More information can be found here.

Technology from Microsoft’s April 2008 acquisition of Farecast is now a central part of Bing Travel. More information coming soon.

Microsoft’s popular cashback program, now dubbed Bing cashback, with more than 850 merchants and more than 17 million products available, will be fully integrated into the Bing Shopping experience.

While all this lucrative decision making assistance is swell, what will elevate Bing above a mere shopping site will be the way it handles day to day search queries for average Internet users. There have apparently been improvements in that regard under the covers and more visibly there is a search results "table of contents" on a sidebar to help refine queries as well as improved text previews of results via technology from acquisition Powerset. As a sample of one, Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling says:

My overall assessment is very positive. Kumo, now Bing, has performed well and I’ve been satisfied with the results. There haven’t been any significant deficiencies or missing links (so to speak). While there have been a few occasions where I’ve found Google results to be better, the substantial gap that existed between Google and Live Search is largely gone with Bing.

Still, success will determined by the number of Internet users habitually going to Bing for Internet search. Microsoft apparently plans to spend $80 to $100 million for promotional advertising in order to bring in crowds to kick the tires at least once and then they get to vote with their mice every day.



Filed under Acquisitions, Bing, Coopetition, Google, Live Search, Live Search cashback, MSN, Virtual Earth, Windows Live, Yahoo

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May 27, 2009

Microsoft teases with Zune HD preview

Posted by David Hunter at 12:35 PM ET.

Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled the much rumored Zune HD or at least what little they are willing to say until next week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) conference:

Microsoft Corp. today announced the evolution of Zune, the company’s end-to-end music and entertainment service, to a new platform and new markets. Zune will extend its video service to Xbox LIVE internationally this fall. This marks an important development in the Zune strategy and brings the Zune brand to more than 17 million international Xbox LIVE subscribers. In addition, Microsoft confirmed the next generation of the Zune portable media player, Zune HD. Available in the U.S. this fall, Zune HD is the first portable media player that combines a built-in HD Radio receiver, high-definition (HD) video output capabilities, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) touch screen, Wi-Fi and an Internet browser.

Gizmodo fills in some of the blanks based on conversations with Microsft’s PR crew:

The flash-based Zune HD features a new industrial look compared to the line’s earlier understated matte style, and is the first to feature a touchscreen: In this case, it’s a 3.3" 16:9 widescreen capacitive OLED with multitouch, packing a resolution of 480×272. The "HD" badging comes from the inclusion of HD radio and HD (720p) video-out, though the latter is available only with an optional docking station. The Zune HD will thus be the world’s first portable media player to include HD radio, which offers song and artist info and far better sound quality than traditional radio. It’ll also include an accelerometer, which is pretty much standard at this point.

Wi-Fi has always been a part of the Zune brand (however half-assedly implemented), and the Zune HD might be the first Zune that actually encourages its owners to keep that battery-sucking Wi-Fi turned on. Yes, the Zune HD will feature multitouch browsing, using a portable browser based on Internet Explorer. We’ll do our best to reserve judgment on that last part.

The other big news is a refocus on Zune integration with the Xbox environment, as the Zune’s video (though not music, yet) marketplace will replace the current Xbox Live version. Microsoft reps were pretty tight-lipped on the subject, but come E3, they’ll enlighten us with the details of the redesign.

Other tidbits: The Zune Marketplace is set to cross oceans, coming to several western European countries and, finally, Canada.

No information has been released on capacity, pricing and release date other than "early fall." I’ll reserve judgment until all the details are in, but so far I am not particularly impressed which is not an uncommon reaction (eg. ParisLemon).

Update from Harry McCracken:

Does this mean the end of the current Zune line? Actually, Microsoft did answer this one: It’ll retire the current iPod Nano-like flash Zune models, but keep the hard-drive based ones on the market.



Filed under Argo, Xbox, Zune

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May 19, 2009

Microsoft releases beta 1 of Visual Studio 2010 and .NET FX 4

Posted by David Hunter at 12:29 AM ET.

S. Somasegar, Senior VP of the Microsoft Developer Division, broke the news yesterday that the first beta of Visual Studio 2010 and .NET FX 4 has been released:

Today, we are releasing Beta 1 of Visual Studio 2010 and .NET FX 4.  If you are a MSDN subscriber, you can download the Beta today from here.  For the rest of the world, the Beta will be publicly available on Wednesday.

Over the last many months I had blogged about a lot of new and interesting features that are in VS 2010 and .NET 4.  You can see those features and many more in Beta 1. We have more work to do in terms of finishing up the feature work for some of the scenarios and getting to the right levels of quality and performance, but we have made enough progress that we wanted to start getting your feedback.

There is more on the new features in VS 2010 at the product page, but my nominee for the most important "sleeper" feature is the array of SharePoint development features which appeal to the burgeoning SharePoint developer market.



Filed under .NET FX 4, Beta and CTP, Microsoft, Office, SharePoint Server, Technologies, Tools, Visual Studio 2010

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May 12, 2009

Microsoft pulls the plug on QnA

Posted by David Hunter at 11:33 AM ET.

Microsoft beta launched their Web "answers" site as Windows Live QnA in August 2006 and it never made it out of beta – MSN QnA will be closing May 21, 2009.

We are ending the QnA beta test and are closing the QnA site on May 21, 2009.

First and foremost, we want to thank you for your participation. Since we introduced QnA, we’ve learned a lot about this new way of communicating and creating valuable content. At this time, we are closing the QnA site, but the experience of running QnA and gathering all of the great feedback you’ve shared with us will certainly influence future product direction.

When QnA moved from the Live Search organization into MSN we announced that we’d be looking for new ways to share questions and answers across MSN and provide new opportunities for you to engage with each other and share your opinions, ideas, and knowledge. That mission has not changed. Questions and answers are still important to MSN and your feedback has been very valuable for our future product strategy. You’ll see more ways of how MSN will empower people to connect and communicate over the coming months.

I must have missed the branding transition to MSN from Windows Live, but then it looks like everybody else did too. The Web answers biz is completely dominated by Yahoo Answers – even Google had to pull out of it – so it is no surprise that QnA had a hard time getting traction.



Filed under Beta and CTP, Coopetition, Google, Microsoft, Windows Live, Windows Live QnA, Yahoo

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