Shifting fortunes for Google and Bing

Bing banishes its chequered history

Microsoft's Bing It On challenge earlier this month indicated strong faith in the substance of its eponymous search engine, Bing - especially as it followed an independent study showing that in an unbranded test, Bing beat market leader Google with a ratio of 2:1.

Furthermore, search engine market share statistics have revealed that while Google continues to enjoy a comfortable lead in the UK, its popularity may be waning in the US, where Bing has made consistent gains. In August 2012, Comscore recorded Bing's US market share as 15.9 per cent; a rise of 2 per cent compared with the previous month. Meanwhile, Google's share dropped from 66.8 per cent to 66.4 per cent.

Bing has always been something of an awkward character in the world of search, despite the strong history of its parent company. Its original name upon launch in 1998 was MSN Search, followed by Windows Live Search in 2006. This was shortened to Live Search in 2007, before finally becoming Bing in June 2009.

Microsoft fighting back to former glory?

As with Google, a definitive name, clear presentation and persistent branding appear to have struck a more successful chord with users - and this may be a lesson for Microsoft to take forward as it launches other new products. Bing's integration of Facebook data, organised layout of results and stunning use of photography have also served it well.

For many years, Microsoft's dominance of software, internet browsing and webmail allowed it to be complacent to some degree. However, it took its eye off the ball in the search engine arena, allowing Google to grab the niche and rise to dominance within a few years of its 1998 launch. More recently, in May 2012, Google Chrome surged past Internet Explorer to become the world's most popular browser; and, a month later, Google's webmail service Gmail overtook Microsoft's Hotmail for the first time.

Microsoft is fighting back, however, as Bing's recent success shows. Like a former world champion returning as a battle-scarred underdog, it is using its experience to make changes that may well attract support from both old and new users. These moves include switching the 1990s-titled Hotmail to Outlook, in line with its computer-based email software; and offering Windows 8 with reduced upgrade costs for users of existing Windows versions.

Market reach

Google, on the other hand, has had a trying few years. It is still miles ahead of its competitors in the search engine field, but its popularity has also brought intense scrutiny and, unsurprisingly, criticism. Formerly the cool, friendly face of modern business, it is now viewed more cynically as a result of controversy over private data collection, self-promoting algorithms and being on the losing side of a social media battle with Facebook.

Consumers like choice - and any industry is more appealing and progressive when there is genuine competition within it. Microsoft's Office package and other software are still going strong and, along with the XBox gaming console, give the company substantial reach into the market.

If Bing's fortunes continue to improve and Windows 8-enabled smartphones do well, Microsoft could once again prove a serious contender for Google and Apple, channelling its historical might into regaining old ground and even discovering new strengths.

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