Microsoft has gone live with its Bing search engine in certain territories, ahead of a scheduled 3 June global launch.
In early tests conducted by vnunet.com, connecting to Bing was a hit-and-miss affair, and there were a couple of error messages suggesting that it had gone live only in the US, as some reports claim.
Microsoft has pitched the search engine at consumers, explaining that it is designed to help make informed decisions about travel and shopping.
"Today, search engines do a decent job of helping people navigate the web and find information, but they don't do a very good job of enabling people to use the information they find," said Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
"When we set out to build Bing, we grounded ourselves in a deep understanding of how people really want to use the web. Bing is an important first step in our long-term effort to deliver innovations in search that enable people to find information quickly, and use the information to accomplish tasks and make smart decisions."
An easy-to-use preferences tab lets users add content tools to searches, such as the ability to filter out inappropriate images, while the location service offers the ability to receive search results from a precise local postcode area.
Since it was lunchtime, we ran a search for 'pizza + our post code'. This turned up accurate results, including one link offering the chance to buy a pizza maker locally as well as many others suggesting local restaurants.
Pressing 'Map' as a seach option at the top of the page took us through to a local map, but the extra restaurant information took a fresh query. We would have appreciated a better mapping option that would link the search results to local directions on the first page.
Just a few sponsored results appear at the top of each page, continuing the uncluttered feel, while 'News' searches were accurate and easy to sift through.
The Shopping tab took us through to a Ciao! preview page, which was messy and disappointing. Again a local search, 'Pizza + w1a', was used, but produced rather poor results including a review of a Pizza Hut in Oxford from 2001 and a review of Dominos Pizza from Wales circa 2006.
Mapping services are provided by Multimap, and were geographically accurate in our initial tests.
Bing may not be available in all geographies just yet, as Microsoft appears to be committed to sticking to its 3 June global launch date.
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