It's not that I expect Bing to be a better search engine than Google, or even that Microsoft has any real shot at making Bing be better than Google -- but I think Bing has a shot at being better than Yahoo!, and it's this sort of competition that will push Google and other competitors that aren't even on anyone's radar into stepping up their game.
In our Apple Weekly Report podcast, Jeff Gamet and I often talk about the benefits of competition. We both hope the Palm Pré is everything everyone seems to expect it to be. It's not that we're unhappy with our iPhones -- far from it -- but we want BlackBerry and Palm to push Apple into making the iPhone even better.
It's the same thing for Bing. Google's been on top in the search world for a while now, and though I'd never suggest the company is resting on its laurels, there's simply nothing like a well-moneyed attack dog nipping at your heals to spur new ideas and research that will keep you ahead of those snapping teeth.
Microsoft has taken a slightly different approach for Bing -- Big Redmond is focusing on making Bing into a "decision engine" (their words), especially for the lucrative areas of travel, purchasing decisions, finding local businesses, and researching health-related issues.
By focusing on these four areas, which happen to be the four most-attractive areas in terms of advertising dollars, Microsoft is hoping to gain initial traction in the market, traction its earlier efforts with MSN Search (or whatever it is called) utterly failed to get.
Complementary technologies like Wolfram Alpha, a search engine of a sort whose raison d'être is to make the world's data computable, are also looking to gain market share through specialization.
For instance, enter Cupertino, CA into Wolfram Alpha, and you can immediately learn it has a population of 52,171, the current local time (1:21 PM PDT as of this writing), weather conditions (68˚ F), and the fact that three nearby large cities include San Jose (population 912,332), Sunnyvale (population 128,902), and Los Angeles (population 3.845 million).
Seemingly trivial stuff, but bear with me: Try entering GM, and you'll get market cap information for the struggling automaker, some graphs, charts comparing GM's rate of stockholder return compared to Treasury Bills, bonds, the S&P 500 and more. You'll also see where the company is headquartered (for now), how many employees it has, and more.
Go try it, and you'll see how different it is. I was listening to an interview on NPR with a Wolfram Alpha executive, and the company itself doesn't claim to be a Google-killer, but rather a very complementary service for Google - an accurate assessment IMNHO.
Be that as it may, Wolfram Alpha has no doubt already sparked some R&D efforts (or buyout discussions) at Google, and the end result is that we, the 'Net consumer, will win.
Microsoft, on the other hand, wants to be a Google-killer. Bing ain't it, though the company has blatantly ripped off the look and feel of Google's search results, but if it can gain any share from Google in the four areas it is trying to specialize in, it will push the entire industry forward.
For that reason, I hope Bing doesn't end up sucking like most of Microsoft's non-Mac products. I want Google to have a solid competitor. I want search to improve. I want to be able to quickly and easily find the information I'm looking for when I do a search, and the quickest path to that goal is for search engines like Google and Microsoft struggling to catch up or keep ahead of each other.