Microsoft's Week Included Bing 2.0, Exchange Server 2010

Microsoft launched a handful of new initiatives for both consumers and businesses this week. In addition to Exchange Server 2010, the new version of its messaging and collaboration platform, Microsoft also added features to Bing, including a more robust video page and search results from Wolfram Alpha, a computational engine that nominally returns a single numerical answer or chart in response to a search query. Microsoft also saw its market share for both Bing and Windows 7 creep up incrementally, as Redmond battles a variety of competitors ranging from Google to Apple for points amidst a still-tight economic climate.

After Microsoft's release of Windows 7 on Oct. 22, any product rollout from Redmond will seem small by comparison. Realizing this, Microsoft introduced its Bing revamp and new Exchange Server 2010 in comparatively low-key fashion.

Microsoft announced the worldwide launch of Exchange Server 2010 on the opening day of the TechEd Europe conference in Berlin on Nov. 9. Conscious of suffering corporate IT budgets despite the ostensible end to the global recession, Microsoft angled the new version of its messaging and collaboration platform for business as a way for the enterprise to increase its efficiency and cost savings.

Specifically, Microsoft's executives suggested to eWEEK and other media outlets that users could save costs through Exchange Server 2010 thanks to features such as a unified approach to data backup-which would save companies money by bringing disaster recovery backup in-house-and a lower-cost storage model that would also increase the size of individual mailboxes from several hundred megabytes to anything between 2GB and 10GB.

Microsoft finds itself increasingly challenged in the messaging and collaboration arena by companies such as Cisco Systems, which announced the release of Cisco WebEx Mail on Nov. 9. That hosted e-mail application allows customers to move from Microsoft Exchange yet continue to access e-mail through an Outlook client. Another potential challenge to Microsoft's messaging stack comes from Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook, which lets Google Apps users rely on the Outlook interface for accessing their messages.

A few days before Microsoft's Exchange Server 2010 announcement, Mozilla also rolled out Thunderbird 3, the next version of its open-source e-mail application. The open-source foundation claims that it made over 2,000 improvements to the platform, including major features such as filtered search-which allows users to apply a variety of filters such as date and name when searching through their e-mail-and a streamlined mail account setup wizard.

During the TechEd conference, Microsoft executives kept repeating the phrase "the new efficiency," a meme first started by CEO Steve Ballmer before the release of Windows 7. According to a Sept. 29 letter signed by Ballmer, this "new efficiency" is supposed to represent IT's need to become more efficient and cost-effective to "not only help companies respond to today's economic reality" but help "lay the foundation for systems and solutions that connect people to information, applications and ... other people in new ways."

Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop said during his keynote speech at TechEd that the "new efficiency" suggested that "sustainable growth is not going to come from cutting costs" but from "improvements in productivity and new innovation."

On the consumer-oriented side of things, Microsoft announced on Nov. 11 that it will be rolling out new functionality for its search engine, Bing, over the coming weeks. Although Microsoft has not officially branded the update "Bing v2.0," some of the added features are substantial enough to constitute that label.

In a challenge to the dominance of Google's YouTube, Microsoft seriously beefed up the capabilities of Bing's video page, integrating feeds from Hulu, MSN Video and ABC into its lineup. Bing Videos will now offer more than 900 television shows, according to Microsoft executives.

Bing's core functionality, search, also received a boost on a number of fronts. In addition to localized results for weather and events, and tweaked Bing Shopping, the engine will begin incorporating results from Wolfram Alpha, the computational engine that delivers a definitive answer-usually numerical-in response to a search query.

"We'll be providing access to Wolfram Alpha's advanced algorithms and expertly curated data within the Bing experience," Pedro Silva, Bing product manager, and Tracey Yao, Bing program manager, wrote in a Nov. 11 posting on the official Bing blog.

The brainchild of Stephen Wolfram, founder and CEO of Wolfram Research, the Wolfram Alpha site originally launched on May 18, with a further expansion of its capabilities over the summer. Although of particular interest to those in academia and business for its computational abilities, some of Wolfram Alpha's functionality includes the display of nutritional data in response to a search query such as "chicken breast."

Bing has been increasing its search engine share. On Nov. 11, Experian Hitwise issued a research note wherein it estimated Bing as occupying 9.6 percent of that market by the end of October, while Google had 70.6 percent and Yahoo 16.1 percent. In addition to possibly attracting more users through its new features, Bing could also draw in more points' worth of market share through Microsoft's seemingly imminent search-and-advertising deal with Yahoo, which if approved by all parties and federal regulators will see Bing power back-end search on Yahoo's Websites.

Given the wave of new products, it may perhaps come as no surprise that Microsoft also launched an anti-piracy Twitter feed. Started on Nov. 3, tweets from the page will focus on "issues of pirated and counterfeit software," according to Redmond.

Microsoft may have more cause to worry about pirated software now that it seems adoption rates are picking up. A report by statistics company Net Applications suggests that the new operating system now occupies 4 percent of the overall PC market, outpacing Windows Vista, which took six months to reach that particular milestone. Net Applications estimated that Windows operating systems currently hold around 92.52 percent of that market, compared with 5.27 percent for Mac and 0.96 percent for Linux.