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It may seem too late to shake up the web search market, but Microsoft’s Bing offers an alternative to Google that may surprise you with some powerful capabilities.
February 21, 2018
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Despite the fact that “Googling” has become a generic term for searching the web, there is actually more than one way to search the web.
What’s more, the alternatives are better than most people might realize. Two of my favorites are Bing and the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo, both of which offer benefits not found in the overwhelming market leader.
Google makes a great product, no argument there at all. But in my opinion, the results on Microsoft’s Bing are just as good. In fact, whenever I’ve not been able to find something in Bing, it’s not on Google either.
It’s not just a matter of switching for switching’s sake; you gain quite a few things with Bing. Not only does the home page feature a different beautiful, inspiring, National Geographic-style photo every day, but results are often enhanced with unique, helpful info cards and graphics. You can even accumulate points for real-world rewards.
With over 90 percent of worldwide internet search, according to StatCounter, Google’s ownership of the web search space may seem like a done deal, but tech companies that people thought would always be on top have regularly toppled. Yahoo was the only game in town before Excite arrived. MySpace was the world-beating social network once upon a time. Kodak once ruled photography, and IBM was the top tech corporation on earth. This too shall pass.
If you’re ready to give Bing a try, I recommend doing a full switchover for at least a week; change your default browser search engine and home page on your desktop and smartphone. Also, sign in to a Microsoft Account; this way, you can collect reward points and keep track of your search history between devices. If you’re like me, you’ll never switch back. But if not, at least you’ve seen that there are alternatives.
1. The Pretty Picture
Maybe some people like seeing a corporate logo all day. Not me. On Bing, you get an often inspiring, beautiful, and educational image every day. If you missed one, click through the last week’s images via the arrows on the bottom right of the page; heart, share, or download your favorites.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a mini-video in place of a still photograph, which occasionally pop up for things like moving water, landscapes, or skyscapes. Sometimes there’s also an option to hear sound associated with the home page image.
The Bing home page is more than just a pretty picture; it offers news, weather, and stock quotes at a glance, as well as links to the online versions of Microsoft’s Office apps. If you don’t like any of the extras—even the picture—you can turn them off in Settings.
2. More Useful Result Pages
During your week of switching to Bing, whenever you don’t find results you want, try the same search in Google. In my experience, if I don’t find it in Bing, I don’t find it in Google, either. In some situations, you’ll get more useful results, as opposed to a list of links, and Bing developers continue to work on delivering them.
In the past couple of months, the Bing team pioneered a technique where, for non-black-and-white topics, you’re shown answers from differing perspectives. To answer questions like “is hot yoga good for you?” Bing shows a panel in which one side shows the pros and the other cons. The feature is still rolling out, but try searching in the form “is x good?” Bing result cards aggregate information from multiple sources gleaned from its language machine learning AI systems.
For some people, this is the paramount reason to use Bing. Like a good credit card, Bing shares some of the profits with you in the form of Microsoft Points, which you earn by searching, taking online news quizzes, or even by using the Edge browser.
You can redeem points for goodies ranging from Amazon, Starbucks, or Xbox gift cards, sweepstakes for Surface and Xbox products, or donations to organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America, Team Rubicon Disaster Response, or the Nature Conservancy. Here’s how to get started.
5. Event Presentation
Search for Winter Olympics 2018, and Bing gives you a well-designed landing page with clear medal counts, while Google shows a few top stories. The same is true for elections, entertainment awards like the Oscars, and many a sporting event, such as the Super Bowl and March Madness. Which takes us to the next item.
6. Bing Predicts
This is a neat feature that works for sports, entertainment awards, and politics. The search engine applies machine-learning and AI to social and other data to come up with a percent chance of winning, whether it’s the Super Bowl, the Oscars, or the presidential election.
My PCMag colleague Jeff Wilson reviews music services, and loves a good lyrics option. If he’d simply switch his search engine to Bing, he’d have the lyrics to every tune at his fingertips.
11. Internet Speed Test
At the risk of trampling on our sister property Ookla’s excellent Speedtest.net, I would point out that searching “internet speed” in Bing produces a convenient on-page tester. Happily, the first link below the speedometer is for Ookla. (Note: Google added a copycat tool several months after the feature appeared in Bing.)
12. Get Your Math On
One coworker turns to Bing when he wants to convert time values, as Google doesn’t display the answer in minutes and seconds. Bing can also convert currencies, deliver stock quotes, and even do trigonometric functions. The currency converter includes cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Also, type in a holiday name to see its exact date as a large answer up top.
13. Weather Trends
When planning a trip, I often want to know what the average temperatures and rainfall are during the month I plan to travel. This information is harder to get on standard weather sites than in should be. But Bing makes easy work of it, showing bar graphs for each month. When you do the same search in Google, you get a paragraph of text. Not quite as useful.
14. Review Pros and Cons
Not that we wouldn’t want you to click through and read the whole review, but sometimes you don’t have time and just need the pros, cons, and bottom line.
15. Translation in Over 60 Languages
Just like Google, Bing can also read your translation, copy it to the clipboard, or even translate entire websites. Microsoft Translator can also generate a link you can send someone to start a multilingual (spoken) conversation.
16. Office Online
Like Google, Microsoft offers online productivity apps, including versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that bear a remarkable resemblance to their desktop versions. Joining them are the OneNote note taking app and Sway, a simple web presentation creator, which are all just a click away from the Bing home page.
17. Maps With Bird’s Eye View
Yes, Bing has maps, too, and you may be surprised how full featured they are, with directions, street view, traffic, and local business search complete with Yelp ratings and photos. But where they beat Google Maps is with the Bird’s Eye view. Satellite and street view (which Bing also offers) are great, but sometime getting that overhead angle view is more useful, especially when you’re scouting vacation destinations. You get to the view by right-clicking on the map and choosing View Bird’s Eye. It works for over 450 areas. Bing Maps also makes use of data from Here Maps, another great map app.
18. Fun and Games
If you need to blow off some steam with a diversion, Bing Fun offers casual online games like crosswords, sudoku, 2048, jigsaw puzzles, Rubiks cube, and news quizzes. Thankfully, the Rubiks Cube game includes a step-by-step solution strategy.
19. Trails Near Me
Just type that phrase into the search box and you’ll see your best local options, filterable by type of junket (hiking, biking, equestrian), difficulty level, and distance.
20. Bing App
Don’t forget the iOS and Android versions of Bing, which resemble the desktop one while adding local info. You can search with your voice using the app, or shoot a picture to grab a QR code link. Swipe up from the bottom of the app screen to browse through the day’s news; click into a story, and you have a reading view option in the embedded browser, which even supports multiple tabs. Quick buttons take you to pressing local needs like restaurants, movies, gas stations, things to do. The Near Me button shows even more local info and deals from Groupon and the like.
About Michael Muchmore
Michael Muchmore is PC Magazine’s lead analyst for software and web applications. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up PC Magazine’s coverage of Web development, enterprise software, and display technologies. Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of web services for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine’s Solutions section, which covered programming techniques as well as tips on using popular office software. He previously covered services and software for ExtremeTech.com.
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