Microsoft takes Bing out of beta in UK

Contrary to recent reports hinting at delays, Microsoft is confident its Bing search portal is ready for prime time in the UK.

Bing UK

Microsoft has taken the UK version of its Bing search portal out of beta in a bid to gain market share against main rival Google.

The site was removed from beta at midnight, contrasting with earlier rumours that the site would remain in beta status until early 2010 .

"Bing is optimised for UK consumers," Marie Thirlwall, senior product manager for Bing told IT PRO in a briefing.

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Thirwall said that Microsoft had ensured that Bing would bring up UK place names ahead of US versions, and prefer British synonyms.

"One of the things we feel passionately about is the user experience for the UK - the look and feel," said Thirwall. "It's about creating a better product for the UK, one we feel is truly appropriate."

Thirwall said that Microsoft had put a lot of time into adding UK specific content such as football and local shopping.

Among the recent changes is the integration of the Ciao shopping comparison engine that Microsoft purchased in August 2008, the integration of Twitter feeds, and visual search.

Microsoft also updated Bing Maps earlier this week, in a worldwide roll out, while Wolfram Alpha was also integrated in the US.

Thirwall declined to make any firm predictions about how Bing would do now that it has come out from beta. "Our goal, as Steve Ballmer has said, is to create a fantastic product. Though it would be great if we could get to number two," she admitted.

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However, as Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca notes, gaining market share for Microsoft will not be easy. "The market share challenge is tough as Google has strong mindshare - even becoming a 'verb'."

Bamforth praised Bing for its UK search relevance and its feature set, but said that is still might not be enough.

"Bing now looks very good on features, but it is not always the best feature set that comes out on top - Microsoft has to step up its marketing and linkages to other parts of the business to encourage more bang for Bing," he said.

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