Talk about an iron grip on search. To research this column comparing Google's venerable search engine with Microsoft's upstart Bing, I Googled "Bing versus Google." It didn't even occur to me to Bing the search.
In a nutshell, that's Microsoft's problem. The company recently unveiled a fresh and attractive search alternative to Google. It's just darn difficult to change habits, including my own.
Google's is the search box affixed near the top of the Web browsers I use. And way more often than not, Google delivers the thorough search results I'm seeking and does so with expediency: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
But give Microsoft props. Bing, launched about a month ago, is really impressive, in another league compared with the Live Search engine it replaces.
Bing bests Google on aesthetics. The Google home page is clean and sparse with the familiar Google Search button and links at the top for images, video, maps, news, shopping, Gmail and more.
Bing's home page adds pizazz, with a stunning travel-oriented photo posted daily. An image of manta rays in Mexico graced Bing.com one day this week. Mouse over the image for factoids — "These curious creatures are gentle, sociable and playful." Such brief digressions are fun. From the home page, you can click on images, videos, shopping, news, maps and travel.
Of course, there's more to search than sending you on a wild, um, manta chase. You want fast, comprehensive and relevant results, a Google strength. Microsoft more than holds it own, especially in the areas Bing is initially concentrating on — travel, health, finding local businesses and shopping. There's even a cash-back program on certain items you buy through Bing.
Type "New York Mets," and the team's most recent scores and upcoming schedule are shown at the top of the results. Google displays the score of the last game and lets you know when the next game will be played.
Type a company name in Bing, and its customer-service phone number appears near the top. Bravo. Such numbers are hard to uncover through Google.
Throughout the Bing experience, you can access snippets of information that may satisfy what you're looking for without leading you elsewhere. If you move the cursor to the right of a Bing search result, a summary window opens with excerpts lifted from the underlying site. You can quickly determine whether to navigate to the full site.
When you hover over a video thumbnail with the cursor, it starts playing, though I hit an occasional snag. You don't have to click "play" or go to the video source (YouTube, Hulu, etc.). Clicking a thumbnail lets you watch in a larger window, often without leaving Bing. Hover over an image, and it jumps out in a somewhat larger window.
Another plus: the "quick tabs" that appear down the left side of the results pane to help you refine a search. Enter "Charleston, S.C.," and you can categorize results by hotels, restaurants, real estate, weather, etc.
On Google, you must scroll to the bottom of a page to see "related searches," though you can also summon a side panel, by tapping "show options."
Bing is also dabbling in real-time search. For example, if you search for an influential person and add Twitter to the search, such as "Al Gore Twitter," you'll get a list of their recent tweets.
Here's how Google and Bing handled a few sample queries.