Microsoft's Bing search engine may not be on Google's level, but it's an effective tool that's gaining marketshare. Today's rollout of new entertainment features is only going to continue that forward momentum.
This new release is focused on entertainment, by which Microsoft means music, games, TV, and movies (not politics--missed opportunity for some satirical zingers there, Microsoft). You'll notice that most of these new features are designed to keep you on the Bing site rather than sending you off to iTunes, Hulu, Fandango, or AddictingGames. That's convenient, sure, but it also lets Microsoft sell more ad impressions on Bing. It's not a bad plan--simpler for consumers, lucrative for Microsoft.
Let's go through those four, one by one.
Music: Microsoft is really pushing Zune hard lately, with the underrated service and software coming to both the Xbox and upcoming Windows Phone 7 hardware. Now Bing is the latest beneficiary of Zune, with the entire 5-million-song-strong catalog available for free streaming. Search for an artist, album, or song, and you'll be able to stream it, for free, right in the browser.
That's not without limitations, of course: You can only stream each song once, with the length reduced to a 30-second clip after that. Bing will also give you the option to buy the song from Zune, iTunes, or Amazon.
There are some other nice music additions, including lyrics, photos, videos, and tour dates for any artist search. You'll find all of that nice information in a streamlined results page, rather than scattered throughout regular web search results.
Games: Microsoft's big strength in entertainment is gaming, so they're not going to let it pass them by--even if they're not offering a revolution. The new games section caters to both hardcore and casual gamers. For the former, there are cheat codes, walkthroughs, and reviews of a huge list of games (over 35,000).
For the latter, Microsoft is now offering 100 classic casual games for free, right within Bing. Search for "Bejeweled," and you won't have to venture out to Addictinggames.com or whatever--it's right there, available for play. Plus, Microsoft added some social features that allow you to invite friends from social networks like Facebook to play with you.
TV: The full Bing TV experience won't be ready for a little while, but we know what's coming, and it's pretty nice. Bing has indexed several popular TV streaming services (Hulu, ABC, etc, though likely not Netflix) for searching, many of which will play right within the search engine. That's mostly available now.
Soon to come: Microsoft will pull down schedules and other guide information from your local TV provider to let you know just when your favorite shows will air.
Movies: You know the drill by now. Everything you might leave Bing to find, you can now do from within Bing. For movies, that includes local play times and locations, reviews, feedback from Twitter and Facebook, directions, nearby restaurants, and even parking locations.
This is all pretty cool stuff, provided it works well. Will Bing's movie play time search be as good as Fandango? Will the walkthroughs be as good as Gamespot or GameFAQs? Will the music streaming be as good as Lala? If Microsoft can pull off respectable versions of all of those independent services, they'll have a great all-in-one search option. Hopefully they can bring all this stuff to Windows Phone 7 as well--it'd be ideal for mobile, and could even rival Google's search for Android.