Just as Google levels its sights on Microsoft's OS dominance, Microsoft is quietly adding some Bing to email provider Hotmail, nudging hundreds of millions of users toward Microsoft's Bing decision engine.
The primary change to Hotmail's interface is the "Quick add" box on the mail composition screen. The quick add tool helps users embed videos, images, business listings, etc. into emails quickly, but it has been updated with Bing functionality and has added maps and movie times to the list of offerings. Essentially, it's like having a Bing widget right there on the composition page that lets you push stuff from Bing directly into an email without copying and pasting a link or even changing windows or tabs. That is, without going to Google.
That's the layer of genius beneath this otherwise routine upgrade by Microsoft. Hotmail is the largest provider of email on the Web with 343 million users (to Gmail's 146 million), and it's still growing rapidly. By embedding Bing inside Hotmail, Microsoft is encouraging each of those users to search via Bing's decision engine, introducing them to the product without them ever asking for it. Further, when a user sends media, like a video clip or a map, the receiver of the email is provided a link to view said media on Bing, pulling yet another pair of eyes to the site.
Driving traffic to a search engine by forcing it on a captive audience; some might call it a monopolistic practice. But truth be told, the "quick add" feature is really quite useful--especially the maps, movie times and restaurants--and it moves media into an email far faster than navigating over to YouTube or Google Maps to copy and paste a link. Many people may not be ready to give up Google for Bing. But when it's faster, more convenient, and right there in front of you, crossing over doesn't seem like such a big leap.