Is Microsoft Bing Really Better Than Google?

David Pogue seems to be making some waves with a frank and surprising review of Microsoft's new search engine Bing. Pogue, reviewing for the New York Times, finds that not only does Bing compete with Google, but in some ways it's actually much better. For example, scrolling over results reveals a pop-up balloon in which you can glance at the contents before clicking. Cool! In a panel to the left of the search results it suggests more specific searches, so if you're a girl Googling Binging Johnny Depp, Bing will offer News, Movies, Quotes, Biography and Images. Useful!

So for the first time since I first wrote about Bing's launch, I gave it a whirl. And you know what? It really might be better than Google.

The first thing to note about Bing and Google is that their search results are essentially twins. Not fraternal twins, where you can see a resemblance only when you squint and compare noses. They're more like identical twins. The best place to test and verify this identical twinship is on the new site Bing vs. Google, which allows you to search a phrase and see the results from Bing and Google in side-by-side windows. In search after search -- on life-expectancy in Russia, Michael Jackson's greatest song, buy Dell computer -- you get the same sites, in the same font, in a slightly different order.

But Bing has taken its twin to beauty school and enrolled her in intense summer classes, and as a result, you have a search engine that looks better and acts smarter than Google search. First of all, let's talk about looks. Every day, the Bing homepage changes to feature a striking full-window photo with roll-over icons that teach you about the place featured. That's just cosmetic, but when you enter a search, you can click to the right side of the results to see a "pop-up balloon" that helps you preview each page before you decide to read it. Below, I've searched for Andy Rooney, and you can see the pop-up box to the right of the five grumpy faces (the arrow is mine, not Bing's).

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If you don't find preview boxes useful, no sweat. They don't get in your way of scanning what is otherwise essentially a Google results page.

But wait, there's more! The left panel of suggested searches is a really useful tool -- for shopping or for researching online. For example, if hypochondriacs like me take our silly hourly health concerns to Bing, the site suggests more specific searches, which are less likely to turn up stupid results (read: exotic diseases). Here are the results for "headache":

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The left column provides both commonsense sub-topics -- like Symptoms and Relief -- and logical further searches. I do want to learn about the different types of headaches -- what's the difference between sinus and tension and stress varieties, anyway? This is how Bing takes your search, and then begins to thinks for you.

To be sure, there are plenty of people who don't want to be thought for. They know what they're looking for and they'll find it for themselves in the main search box, thank you very much. And for them, there is happy news: Google isn't going anywhere. But what's nice about Bing is that it is Google. It's just not afraid to look pretty, or hold your hand.