Steve Ballmer has officially unveiled Microsoft's next-generation search service, Bing, and revealed plans to make it available worldwide on Wednesday 3 June.

As expected, Microsoft Bing will replace the company's Live Search brand. The software giant claims Bing will provide a new intuitive layout, more functionality in areas such as shopping and local search, and more engaging home page images reflecting location and news agenda.

The spruced-up navigation for search results comes by way of a new left-hand nav bar, a hover feature that lets users preview web pages before visiting them, and a categorised search feature that groups search results by topic category.

Among Bing's core improvements over Live Search, according to Microsoft, are its ability to scour the web more deeply and to deliver more relevant search results faster. But the most striking feature of Bing - setting it apart from Live Search and what Google and Yahoo deliver - is the way it parses and displays search results.

Microsoft Bing

Whereas Google emphasises a stark, quick-loading design and a list of highly relevant search results, Bing's search results are organised into what it calls Search Categories - subdivisions such as Web, Maps, Images, and Health. In a particular search, Bing creates Search Categories dynamically in response to the search query. Bing also packs some new smarts: technology that Microsoft acquired through its purchase of the firm Powerset, which attempts to figure out the searcher's intent rather than relying heavily on matching keywords to web documents.

Stefan Weitz, director of Live Search for Microsoft, called Bing a "decision engine" and says that it can help you explore, research, and find what you are looking for. "Google has done a great job of turning the word Google into a verb," he said.

Bing is less about repeat searches, which Weitz sees as the key feature of googling, and more about finding the answer you're looking for the first time or helping you refine that search from the search results page.

Will Bing's overhauled search engine and Microsoft's advertising investment woo the masses to Bing? Our first impression after testing the preview release of Bing, called Kumo, is that it stands a good chance of succeeding. (Read my hands-on evaluation of Bing for more information. And see our slideshow, "Bing: A Visual Tour of What's New" for a closer look at the new features.) Still, the challenge of sharply reducing Google's market share is daunting.

With additional reporting from Oliver Garnham

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Analysts give Microsoft Bing a mixed reception