Just when you thought that Microsoft had run out of ideas how on how to tackle Google’s search engine dominance – wham! All of the sudden they come up with the truly genius idea of integrating your new Microsoft Office suite with Bing.
We probably should have seen this one coming. After all, we already have Bing-powered apps for Windows 8, Xbox and Windows Phone, so bringing that same capability to its second-most popular piece of software was a logical next step for Microsoft.
Five free Bing apps are now available for Microsoft’s Office 365 Home Premium suite, including Bing News Search for Office, Bing Finance (Beta) for Office, Bing Maps for Office, Bing Dictionary for Office, and Bing Image Search for Office.
Microsoft says that “Our goal is to make Bing available in convenient and intuitive ways that take advantage of knowledge Bing has assembled for search… With Bing Apps for Office we are introducing ways for you to be more productive without having to leave the applications.”
In other words, the new apps have been designed to make your life easier, allowing you to carry out vital tasks like web searches and scanning through maps right there in your office suite, without constantly needing to click between it and your browser every two minutes.
Some of the apps are pretty self-explanatory. Bing News Search for Office does what it says on the tin, allowing users to search for news stories and videos right there in Word - it’s just like opening a tiny browser window inside your document, from where you can copy and paste quotes, grab URLs for links etc. All very useful for a writer like myself…
Then there’s Bing Dictionary for Office, another handy little tool that offers spellings and definitions. It also helps users to guess how certain words are spelt if they aren’t sure – just type the word as you think it’s spelled, and Bing will try to work out what you’re saying.
Bing Finance for Office is really an Excel app, allowing users to build finance portfolio tables within spreadsheets, while Bing Maps for Office opens up a ‘window to the world’ within your Document or Excel sheet, from where it’s possible to plot details onto a map. In addition, the Maps app also comes with a nifty little data visualization tool for Excel users. Microsoft gives an example of how this could be used, saying “imagine overlaying census data on a state map”, which basically gives us an idea of what it’s capable of doing – neat stuff.
Last but not least, we have Bing Image Search for Office, which as you might suspect, lets users search for images from the web without leaving the cozy confines of your document.
By building these apps directly into Office, which remains by far and away the most popular productivity software around, Microsoft is obviously hoping that the convenience will help it to steal some traffic away from Google. Millions of Office users will suddenly be faced with the choice of much easier access to web search via Bing, or the alternative laborious route of switching back and forth between web browser and document – this could end up causing Google some serious problems as it struggles to protect its stranglehold on search.
It’s precisely because of this that Microsoft is being careful. Those who have already rushed out and bought the new Office 365 Home Premium will notice that the apps haven’t been pre-installed – they have to be downloaded and added in manually, something that Microsoft has almost certainly done to prevent any comebacks from Google, which would otherwise demand the right to pre-install its own apps into Office in the name of fair competition.