Microsoft today debuted a new beta version of its maps software, driven by Silverlight for smoother graphics and richer related content.  (Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft also has released a new Bing mobile client, available on 25 different handsets, including the Apple iPhone.  (Source: Microsoft)
Bing just got a host of new features

Microsoft has already rolled out its new Bing search engine, the successor to Live Search/MSN Search.  The new search engine powers Microsoft search homepage ( and partner Yahoo's search page.  Google, which enjoys a sizable lead over Microsoft and Yahoo, has a shiny new search engine of its own -- Caffeine.  However, some people still prefer Google's good old-fashioned standard interface.

While the search engine itself is obviously inseparable from the search business, another key to generating traffic is attached content, such as mapping web applications and more.  Google has long held a healthy lead in providing such rich information and free web apps.

Today Microsoft detailed and rolled out a major overhaul to its Bing engine packed with new features and refinements to help it close that gap.  In what some are dubbing as "Bing 2.0" Microsoft's new search results now include more structured information via a feature called "entity cards", which supplements traditional crawled results.  For example, searching for the band "Coldplay" will bring up photos of the band, a list of tour dates, and more.  These structured results come courtesy of Microsoft's partners such as Wolfram Alpha.

In addition to added basic info, Microsoft will be adding Twitter and Facebook results local to you.  It has also overhauled its mapping software, offering a new beta Silverlight-driven version of its mapping and street view software (Silverlight is a closed rich-media standard similar to Adobe's Flash).  Other mapping improvements include the addition of "what's nearby" -- information on bars, restaurants, and other attractions near your location -- and "Photosynths" -- virtual photographic tours of locations like museums.

Microsoft also has debuted a feature dubbed "task pages" that help people complete their search objectives.  Both the task pages and entity cards were available in cruder forms, but have been refined with "Bing 2.0".

Looking to get the jump on Google in the emerging smart phone internet market, Microsoft has launched a mobile Bing client available on 25 devices.  Many of the handsets are Verizon phones, with some powered by Windows Mobile, Microsoft's smart phone operating system.  There's also an app for AT&T's iPhone.  The mobile Bing implementations aims to rule the world of mobile maps and quick searches.  It also offers rich mobile information and support for voice driven searches, such as "football scores".

In all, Microsoft's new features, which should be mostly available at this time, demonstrate the company's ongoing commitment to the search business.  There's a vast amount of money at stake and Microsoft isn't taking the search game lightly -- it's increasingly appearing like Google may have a real competitor on its hands at last.

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