Microsoft has unveiled a new design for its Bing search engine, introducing elements from Facebook and other social networks, as it tries to claw market share from leader Google Inc.
Slow off the mark in internet search, Microsoft has racked up losses of more than $US6 billion in its online unit since launching Bing three years ago, but has yet to make a mark on Google's dominance of the lucrative ad search market.
In its latest push to increase usage of Bing, Microsoft is introducing a new, three-column screen design. Alongside the familiar search results displayed in blue to the left of the screen, Bing is rolling out an instant snapshot column, which displays extra information and links most likely to be useful such as maps, reviews and reservation tools.
To the right, it features a column of users' Facebook friends, giving them the option of asking their advice on a search. Users can also access their contacts on LinkedIn, Twitter and other networks.
Microsoft, which owns a small fraction of Facebook after an investment in 2007, has been pioneering the integration of social network feeds into internet search, being the first to allow access to real-time data from Facebook and Twitter in searches.
Google followed suit soon after and has now integrated its fledgling social network Google+ into its search engine.
Microsoft, which is losing around $US500 million every quarter in its online business, largely because of Bing, badly needs to turn its search engine into a viable competitor to Google. It needs to challenge Google's increasing influence on the Internet and slow the growth of its popular Android mobile operating system, which poses a long-term threat to Microsoft's core Windows product.
Before rolling out Bing in June 2009, Microsoft's Windows search engine had eight per cent of the US internet search market, compared with Yahoo's 20 per cent and Google's 65 per cent.
In the three years since then, Bing has almost doubled its market share to 15 percent, but that has been mostly at the expense of Yahoo, which has had its share whittled down to 14 percent. Google remains around 66 percent.
Microsoft sealed a search agreement with Yahoo in 2010, which means that Yahoo's searches are actually performed by Bing, with Microsoft paying Yahoo a percentage of search ad revenue.