Austin, Texas - For all the suffering Microsoft caused me in the last decade, you'd think the makers of Windows ME could at least buy me a drink at the Microsoft SXSWi party. But no.
Instead, they offered free demonstrations of Bing Maps. Not much in comparison, I know. But worthwhile nonetheless, because, to my surprise, I realized that Bing is silently becoming an impressive search tool.
Earlier in the week, a Bing representative sat on the panel on searching, one of the most contentious gatherings at this year's interactive festival. The rep argued that semantic searches and algorithms, which are indisputably Google's forte, are not all there is to finding information online.
(Semantic searching is about pairing words with meanings, i.e., how Google knows Lady Gaga's Telephone refers to a song title and not which phone she carries. Algorithms are the semi-secret way Google organizes its search results.)
Bing is cornering the market on finding information that Google currently can't, like flight schedules. It's also vying to become the default search on iPhones, Yahoo! and its upcoming Internet Explorer 9 browser, which was previewed here Tuesday.
Right now, it has 11 per cent of the market share for searching, compared to Google's more than 65 per cent. If some of its deals go through, that could jump to about a quarter of the market. If the company starts springing for drinks at its corporate jams, that percentage could go even higher.