Big Bing Theory: New search, new worlds

The next time you're about to search for something on the Web head to instead of your tried-and-true search engine. You'll be surprised what you find -- and by what Bing finds for you.

The new search engine does things a little differently. It's being billed as a "decision" engine by its parent company, Microsoft Corp. You've probably heard of it. Although Microsoft efforts in search have consistently lagged behind powerhouses Google and Yahoo, this time the company got it right.

The first thing you'll notice about Bing is the home-page photo. It changes daily and usually features an exotic spot somewhere on the planet. I say "usually" because I've seen an image from an electron microscope, and wouldn't be surprised to see a photo from outer space. I check Bing early every day to see what it's featuring.

Rolling your cursor over the photo reveals a series of pop-up boxes that include factoids with image details. Other main navigation on the home page includes: "images, videos, shopping, news, maps and travel." Clicking any of these without entering a search term leads to more information about the location of the daily photograph.

An archive of the last seven days of Bing home page photos is clickable in the lower-right portion of the image. Be sure to have the latest version of Microsoft's Silverlight browser plug-in installed. You'll be prompted to download it if your computer needs to be updated.

The area below the photo also has links to more information about the photo and a "popular now" area with links to the current topics with the most search activity. It's a very easy way to see what's bubbling around the Web.

A Bing search results page is organized a bit differently than what Google or Yahoo delivers. The left-side navigation "rail" includes a handful of topics related to the search. For example, if you search for "Las Vegas," you'll get links for hotels, weather, attractions, events, tourism and images -- all items Web surfers may be interested in.

Below that list is a second list of "related searches." These lead to more specific items, in this case: "shows, vacations and casinos" are included. Finally, the bottom of the left-side rail has a list of the recent terms you've searched for on Bing. I find it handy if I'm working on multiple items and need to revisit a Web page I may have been to an hour ago.

The "image" results on Bing are shown in an "endless" page, which means instead of clicking to "next" or "previous" pages, the images keep loading and the page keeps scrolling. It's a nice time saver.

I'll share more about Bing next week, including the shopping and maps features. Send your Bing impressions via e-mail with "bing" as the subject. I'll share the best.

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