A Radical Change

September 4, 2012 - Why I Switched to Bing

One of the early attractions of Google (the search engine, not the company) was the very lightweight home page, just the Google logo and a search box. 10 years ago that was a blessing because of its low bandwidth requirement.

Some years back, probably 2006, I began to use iGoogle. Frankly, I liked widgets. Using iGoogle I was able to create a modest, reasonably lean home page that highlighted the things of most interest to me. The Weather widget was one such item. A second, very important one was the Gmail widget, which allowed me to see if I had received any mail without having to open Gmail itself.

A few months ago, Google announced the retirement of iGoogle, effective early in 2013. It's tough to have something you've used for six years fade away, so I started looking for a replacement.

Google's idea of replacing the functionality is Chrome and phone apps. Google is pretty blunt about Chrome. I'm equally blunt: For years Google has touted openness but now wants me to use its browser to obtain its proprietary features.

So how will I get those features if I don't use Chrome? I don't think I can. Even if I used Chrome, I would not be able to fully duplicate the arrangement and content I was able to create with iGoogle. Just because Chrome has a way for me to get weather is not enough. Besides, I still have numerous issues with Chrome, including the boneheaded way it handles tabs.

Just writing about this issue won't have any effect on Google. About the only way I can make a difference, albeit microscopic, is not to use Google. Effective today, that's exactly what I'm doing. My new, default home page, which I will set in all my browsers (including Chrome), will be Bing. No, I can't get widgets in Bing and I can't even get gadgets in Windows any longer (recently uncovered security risk). No matter what, I have to make a compromise there. Maybe I'll get a smartphone, where I can see the weather simply by turning it on.

Back to basics, Bing is an excellent search engine. Some time ago I spent a few hours matching searches in Google and Bing, searching for the same thing at almost exactly the same time and comparing results. The results were slightly different but not so substantially that I could find any fault with Bing's results. Search is, first and foremost, why I have a search engine as my default home page. Any search engine with good results is good enough. But there's more. I like Bing. Its results pages return to the original, sparse look that made Google so attractive in the first place. Google's results have become cluttered and more difficult to navigate. Ads are present in Bing but paid placement of all types in Google have begun to overwhelm results, especially on the first page. And I like other aspects of Bing, such as images and maps, better than I like Google's versions. Google retains the crown for close in, geographical visuals and Google Earth, but Microsoft is not far behind.

Keep in mind that ads are a primary revenue source for Google, the original and ongoing source of its wealth. I'm sure Microsoft would like a piece of that pie as well, but ad revenue is much further down the page in its case. Accordingly, Microsoft need not be as desperate to sell ad space on results pages, which can thus retain their utilitarian appeal.

Google has done me a favor. Despite liking Bing, my preference for iGoogle generated inertia that kept me from changing. Google has removed that chain. I'm free to choose, and I choose Bing.

I am going to need something to replace my Gmail widget, though. I don't use my Gmail account very often; I have it mostly so I can can maintain other Google services such as Google Analytics. I just need to know when something has hit the inbox so I don't let mail linger. I suppose I'll have to do that with a smart-phone, although it seems silly not to have something simple in the browser. Or I'll break down and set up an account for Google in Outlook, although the last time I did that I found it annoying.

That's a tip for Microsoft, too. I recently signed up for an Outlook.com email account to replace my MSN/HotMail/WindowsLive/whatever Microsoft email account. I like Outlook.com email, a lot. But like Gmail, I have no quick way to check this secondary mail source. A widget would be nice...

Tags: Bing, Google, Microsoft, Search, Web Browsers

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