When it comes to online search engines and maps, there's one name that springs to mind: Google. Whether you're searching for a particular phrase or locating an address using Google Maps, the company has got it all sewn up. Or it did until last summer.

In June 2009 along came Bing, Microsoft's revamped search engine. This replaced the Live Search brand and was geared up to challenge Google's hold on the search market.

It's had a design overhaul, with the new-look engine getting a navigation bar, a preview feature and categorised search results. But Microsoft says Bing's main improvement is its ability to scour the web more deeply and to deliver more relevant results faster.

Microsoft must be doing something right. ComScore reported that Bing's share of the US search market rose from 9.4 percent in September to 10.7 percent in December. However, this hasn't affected Google much: its own share rose from 64.9 to 65.7 percent. Microsoft has some way to go before knocking Google off the top spot.

With this in mind, the company has launched a number of enhancements to Bing Maps and launched StreetSide, its answer to Google Street View.

Over the following pages, we'll show you how to get the most out of the search engine and the new functions in Bing Maps.

Meet Bing

Google prides itself on having a clean, minimalist design and offering a list of highly relevant results. Bing, on the other hand, organises its results into search categories such as Maps, Images, Videos and Shopping. These categories are created dynamically in response to your query.

Rather than relying heavily on the keywords used in your query, Bing delivers results based on what it thinks you're looking for. Microsoft insists this technology will help you find the answer you're looking for more quickly.

A quick glance at the Bing home page reveals a more colourful design than that of Google. Below the search box are three links to items Microsoft thinks you might find interesting.

Bing home page

The Bing home page changes daily, depicting different locations and events. Hover your cursor over the image for links to further information.

To search, simply enter your keyword or phrase into the search box and press Enter or click the orange magnifying glass symbol to the right. Bing will suggest popular search phrases that match your query as you type. These suggestions can be turned off by selecting Preferences in the top righthand corner and removing the tick next to ‘Turn suggestions on'.

Bing's safety features, which are set to Moderate by default, can also be adjusted from the Preferences pane. Select Change, then choose Strict, Moderate or Off.

Bing preferences

The main search results window displays the most popular results. Click the links below your search phrase or keyword to drill down to categories such as News, Images, Videos and Biography.

Advanced search options

You can further refine your search using the Advanced Search button located to the right of the main window. This lets you search for results that include a specific phrase, web pages that are listed at a particular site, domain or country, or those written in a particular language. Alternatively, you can display UK-only results by typing loc:UK in the search bar.

The Related Searches box on the lefthand side of the search results window can be used for refining searches with other popular phrases. Click the Images category and a list of related people will be displayed on the lefthand side of the window.

Searching for Michael Jackson, for example, brings up everyone from his family members to artists he worked with and those he is said to have influenced.

Getting specific

Bing also lets you specify the file type that you want to search for. Simply enter your keyword followed by contains: and the file type you want. Alternatively, you can search only for pages that have your keyword in the title by searching for intitle:, followed by your keyword.

Typing maps after your keyword when searching for a location will display a tiny map of the area. Click this to open a full-size Bing Map in your browser.

Bing map search results

Quick Previews is another useful feature. It lets you take a sneak peek at a website without navigating there to find out whether it's what you're looking for.

To activate Quick Previews, hold the cursor over the righthand side of the search result and a blue arrow will be displayed. This will be followed by a box containing text from the web page in question.

This also works for videos. Simply hover the cursor over a video and playback will begin. It's worth bearing in mind that you'll only be able to view a 30-second clip before the preview stops.

You can also search for specific-length videos from your favourite TV programmes. Enter the TV show's name then select either Short (less than five minutes), Medium (between five and 20 minutes) or Long (20 minutes and longer) from the lefthand side.

Bing offers a shopping comparison service in conjunction with Ciao. Simply enter the name of a product and click the Shopping category from the results pane. Hit Compare to see a list of deals available from online suppliers.

Bing Ciao

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