Google/Bing: Minimalism vs. Maximalism

By  |  Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 2:13 am

I kinda doubt that anyone involved planned it this way, but yesterday provided an interesting study in contrasts between the world’s biggest search engine and its most notable rising star. In the morning, I attended a Bing press event. It was highlighted by the debut of a feature-packed new version of Bing Maps, but also included demonstrations of how you can get weather reports from three different providers right within Bing. And watch movie trailers, and view slideshows. Bing may be a search engine, but that doesn’t mean its goal is to get you to leave–it’s at least as happy if it can help you without you having to click away to another site, and it won’t shy away from throwing a lot of stuff at you.

At the event, Microsoft executives repeatedly disparaged what they called the “command line” approach to search–the command line being a simple search field of the sort synonymous with Google. When it comes to search, Microsoft argued, more is better.

Later that day, Google had a search announcement of its own: It’s unveiling a new home page that begins by showing you only the Google logo, the search field, and the Google Search and I’m Feeling Lucky buttons. Only when you move your mouse around do you see other elements such as the links to other Google services along the top of the page.

Google, in other words, is doubling down on that “command line,” by putting the search field front and center, and stripping away nearly everything that it can strip away. There’s more white space on that page than ever before, which makes it even more strikingly different from Bing’s home page, which replaces white space with a different interesting photograph each day.

Now, there was a time when Microsoft attempted to channel Google’s minimalism, as witness the old Live Search home page…

…but its new, dense-with-stuff approach–call it maximalism–makes a lot more sense. Compared to Google, Bing’s maximalism offers a choice, not an echo. And it lets Microsoft be Microsoft–just about every success the company has ever had has involved products that are bursting at the seams with features. It’s far more in Microsoft’s nature to give you detailed weather from three sources than to do what Google does–which is to give you as brief a weather report as possible, than send you off-site for more information. It’s also far more Microsoft-esque to try to fill every available pixel with something than to proudly leave it untouched.

Numerous search engines have tried to beat Google by being a better Google than Google. Some have been willing to experiment with being different from Google. ( comes to mind–but lately, it’s looking more like Google than it used to.) But I don’t think any Google rival has attempted to be, in effect, the opposite of Google. That’s what Bing is evolving into. ┬áSo far, it seems to be helping: Microsoft told us this morning that Bing’s market share has grown for five months in a row, a feat no Google rival has ever accomplished.

My fingers still take me instinctively to Google when I need to search, and I’m extremely comfortable with its “command line.” But I’m keeping an eye on Bing, at least. And as I said in my post on Bing Maps, I’m rooting for Bing to do well–I like the idea of Google having to pay attention to a formidable competitor. You?


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13 Comments For This Post

  1. Mark Essel Says:

    Tried commenting with related links etc but it died in the tubes (flakey wifi). Appreciate the heads up on philosophy shifts in search Harry.

    I thought MSFT made a mistake with Yahoo and went on to describe how with real time search more is better.

  2. John Baxter Says:

    The browser search box (currently Bing is default in IE8) is where searches are started. I visit to see the images (almost daily), but almost never start a search there. There were a couple of exceptions during Google’s Sesame Street period: I searched for Google from the Bing page twice (and got sensible results with the Google search page on top), just to annoy Mr. B. (I have to annoy him carefully: I live within mortar range of Redmond.)

    The only times I visit the Google home page are to get to something else at Google or to see the doodle.

  3. Josh Says:

    Good observation Harry. I too like the idea of Google having serious competition. I only wish that competition weren’t from Microsoft. It’s annoying to watch one monopoly attempt to grab some market share from another monopoly. There really is no “good guy” in this fight and, if I were to choose one, I have to side with Google. Microsoft is far more dangerous to the industry and consumers than Google ever has or ever will be.

    @John: Even though a lot of people use the browser search tool, is still a very popular page. Even so, a search engine’s home page is going to be seen as the symbol of the brand.

  4. Vulpine Says:

    Doesn’t this sound like Microsoft’s Bing is trying to become the new AoL? Back when AoL first started, they almost refused to let you outside of their own system. It sounds like Bing is trying to do the same thing.

  5. noone Says:

    I hate google to death. I wish them go away just like SUN did.

  6. ediedi Says:

    I guess it’s safe to say that in its current incarnation, Bing is not a search engine. It has a search function, in the same way in which youtube or wikipedia have a search box.

  7. omnydevi Says:

    hrm…so bing advertises about google having too many returned hits on unrelated, then they go out and show you even MORE hits on even more unrelated crap, and claims it is a ‘function’. sounds like microsoft.

    needless to say, i am sticking with google. i like simple, i don’t need a picture of a shark or eye candy. i prefer simple/effective/ease of use.

    microsoft should stick with trying to make a reliable os.

  8. Robert Says:

    Microsoft has repeatedly said that Bing is a decision engine. So that may explain why it “in it’s current incarnation…it is not a search engine” (@ediedi). They are trying to differentiate it from Google and I think that is a good idea. They hide all the “features” really well.

  9. Don D Says:

    You gotta give it to Microsoft for this one. They are indeed changing the playfield. And for once, I love Bing, especially the stunning Bing Maps! I am not a minimalist, and love all the bells and whistles with their search. Frankly, compared to Bing, Google search results look so 70s.

    There are no angels here, alright? Be it MSFT or Google or Apple, these are Corporations trying to make money out of customers, no one is doing a service to humanity by selling their products here, alright? So lets cut that crap about Google no evil thing. Just ask the book authors and press folks how angelic Google is, Duh! For once, I am with MSFT here – they are innovating and at an amazing pace that too.

  10. Brandhabits Says:

    I like your reference to Bing going for the opposite of Google. I think with increased competition and a few losses, Microsoft is now starting to be considered as a competitive brand vs a disliked corporate giant. Big, Windows 7 and Xbox are testament to this. Even if Bing gains 10-15% market share on Google it would be a big win. Google’s response would be very interesting…
    I’ve just written about Microsoft v Google at

  11. J4rrod Says:

    @ediedi you must be pretty ignorant, because if you weren’t you would know that Win7 is amazing. And it’s fine if you prefer Google, but not giving credit to MS and Bing on this one is pure nonsense.

  12. Jesse Says:

    i just go one think to say i love microsoft all the way i onw a ford mustang with sync a zune hd xbox 360 and all my pc run on windows OS GOOGLE IS COOL AND ALL but all your searchest are in record throw your ip if your not log in so i go with bing long like microsoft

  13. Jack Smith Says:

    I use Bing and Google whenever i want to find something on the internet. I think that both search engines are very good. :

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