Tag Archives: microsoft

Would you Bing that?

Earlier this week Microsoft Canada invited myself and a few other locals out to take a look at Bing. Here’s what you should know about Bing.

Bing is Microsoft’s new search engine. Bing is a re-brand of Microsoft’s old “live” search engine. The one no one ever really used. Bing is effectively front-end revamp, re-brand and relaunch of Microsoft search.

Another thing to know. Bing in Canada isn’t the same thing as Bing in the US. The US one has a lot more “stuff” to it. You may or may not actually like the cleaner Canadian version. Click to make these pictures bigger:

Bing USA vs. Bing Canada
BingUSA_vs_BingCanada

I’ve been trying out for a several days. The best you can say for it is that it’s okay. It’s a fine search engine. This may not sound like high praise, but a) it’s far better than you can say for the last few search engines who’ve tried to take on the GOOG b) coming from microsoft, who are only finally starting to rediscover the internet in recent years.

And Microsoft really is trying to take on the google, or so they say. Actually how they say it is that users are unsatisfied with “search” and that they use the back button too much and that “search” takes them too long to find a perfect pair of shoes for example. But they say they are not trying to take on Google per say. As though taking of “search” is somehow a different than taking on the company that has 97% market share of search.

How do you get better than Google? Well this is tough, google being, let’s be honest, much of the time, almost brilliantly indistinguishable from magic. Then there is Google Inc.’s habit of generally simply awesome web applications all over the internet and then giving them to us users for free. Don’t you feel kinda bad not using google for search?

To do better, Bing’s strategy is mostly about trying to aggregate a lot of corner cases. Bing’s search results provides categories that are context sensitive to what you are searching for. Search for “Toronto” and you’ll get a lot of results categorized by city-ish and touristy-ish related subjects, search for “Australian Cattle Dog” and you’ll get dog pictures and categories like adoption and pets and rescues. Not bad.

Is Bing a serviceable replacement for googling? I would dare say that most of the time it is. Is there any reason you should switch? Well let’s not get crazy. Bing is by no means clearly better than google, it may be fine, but it’s not clearly ten times better. Ten times better is probably what it would take for most consumers to consciously and confidently make that decision.

And that’s what’s really so funny about Bing being better than google, is how much Bing looks like google. Though it’s front page is rather distinctive, Bing’s results, how to put this politely, “leverage a lot of familiar affordances” from google:

I Can’t Believe it’s not Google!
Bing_vs_google_results

You know I bet if bet if you shipped a lot of OEM computers that just happened to have Bing set as the default search engine, that it might take a lot of ordinary users a while before they even noticed that they weren’t on google…

LINK: Bing

UPDATE/PROTIP: the image searching on Bing is actually pretty awesome. They give you a nice side bar frame to browse across images on multiple sites, much less back-buttony than google. Example. Click on a picture in these results to see what I mean.

Dividend theory at work, MSFT shareholders want their money back

On a down day on the market, Microsoft is up today, demonstrating a neat piece of market finance theory. Microsoft is up because they announced they’ll be giving back to shareholders a whole whack of money, 40Billion in share buybacks and an increased dividend rate. Theoretically speaking, share buybacks are functionally equivalent ways to return money to shareholders.

And so the stock is up. But here’s the kicker, MSFT is only paying shareholders their own money. Notionally, the market cap of the firm should stay the same or go down proportionate to the same value of money shifted from one pocket to the other.

Implicitly the market is saying that it believes the same 40B is worth more (Worth 6.75B more to be exact) outside of the hands of Microsoft management than in it. This effect is not actually not uncommon. The market has a tendency to discount the value of large cash balances do to the uncertainty and agency cost/risk of what management might do with it. Empirically studies have shown that firms with higher dividend payout ratios outperform those with lower dividends even if it means they have to go back to the market more often to raise funds for projects (increasing the transparency and accountability of management to market or so the theory goes).

Microsoft could have spent that cash buying up a thousand great startups. They could invest it inventing the next wildly successful ipod, xbox, web OS or they could blow it on the next Vista, Zune or Windows Bob. You just don’t know. That’s the theory anyway.

If Google or Apple gave back 40B to shareholders do you think their stock’s would go up or down?

In the 90’s MSFT minted many millionaires, but this century has got to have been a frustrating ride for employees and shareholders. The stock is still where it was in 1998. In some ways, it’s just hard being a big company. Every year they make piles more money, but only just enough to keep up with the market’s ever-diminishing level of growth expectations (as expressed by an ever diminishing PE multiple). If MSFT was trading at the same multiple as google, today the stock would be over 50.

Microsoft graciously invited me to a big event next month in LA, possibly including sneak peak at Windows 7 and a reinvented Microsoft. I’m sorry I’ll have to miss it, one can hope for great things. It’s funny but I can still remember the days (anyone remember the win95 launch?) when Microsoft was cool. With a new OS, a new browser and many other things on the way, it can only be up from here right?

New Microsoft browser not terrible

Modern web development

Microsoft gave us tech bloggers a sneak peak at their new IE8 web browser the other day.

On the whole I like it. In several areas, IE8 catches up in features to other modern browsers. In other areas, it introduce a few new tricks other browsers could learn from.

IE8 does still retain the bizarre menu button placement introduced by IE7, as well as the generally Vista-ish (read tacky) look and feel of the chrome. This is probably enough to keep me personally from using it. What can you do. The important thing, the really important thing, however, is that a lot of other people start using it.

As far as functionality IE8 is one big step forward for Microsoft. And IE8 should be a good thing for the web. Some people will complain that the browser does introduce a number of new proprietary/non-standard features but you don’t have to use them. On the contrary, IE8 looks to be much more compatible where it counts as far as CSS and fundamental webstandards compatibility.

Modern versions of firefox, safari, opera are really great browsers and have been for years. If you’ve got one of these you are doing just fine. Nonetheless, stubbornly millions of people and far too many IT departments are still stuck way back on IE6. The F&*#&ckers. This is a problem. Maybe a problem only Microsoft can fix.

So it’s great news than, for the first time in many years, MS will have a browser worth using. How they plan to convert all those old IE6 & 7 users I don’t know (the process hasn’t gone so well for Vista you know). But if it can be done, if IE8, Firefox, and Safari can become the new baseline for the desktop web, than we could really get back to building some wonderful things. And web designers everywhere would just have to find something else to spend their time swearing about.

You can play with IE8 beta2 yourself if you like.

graphic: Modern Web development [circa 2006], Alan “IE users must die” Foreman