Can Windows 8.1 “save” Bing (and vice versa)?

marilyn searchToday, Microsoft officially acknowledged a number of details about changes coming to Windows via the Windows 8.1 update, coming later this year (with a preview expected as early as the end of June), including new updates to the Windows 8 “core apps”, the way Windows 8 works with multiple displays, cloud connectivity and SkyDrive, a new version (11) of Internet Explorer, and perhaps most importantly, new integration with Bing Search. You can read more about what Microsoft is saying about the changes on the “Blogging Windows” blog post, and we’ll have more to say soon about what the rest of the news will mean for Windows 8 users, but for now let’s dive into the Bing Search news.

Windows Program Management Corporate Vice President Antoine Leblond wrote this about Windows 8.1 and Bing:

In Windows 8.1, the Search charm will provide global search results powered by Bing in a rich, simple-to-read, aggregated view of many content sources (the web, apps, files, SkyDrive, actions you can take) to provide the best “answer” for your query. We think this will really change the way you interact with the Web and with windows making it quicker and easier to get things done. It is the modern version of the command line!
Quick actions include things you would want to do like play a song or video. Results from local files, apps, and settings are easily accessed in the same convenient view by scrolling to the left.

In this short sentence, Leblond introduces what appears to be a profound change in the way that Windows treats search. Instead of beginning with an indexed search of your local computer, and offering a link to the Bing App for a web search for “more” results, Windows 8.1 will instead, from what it sounds like, begin by searching the web. Apparently even if you’re looking for local results, you’ll first be offered results from Bing, and will need to scroll to the left to get local results. Does this mean that every search you initiate from the Search Charm will be a web search? (and if so, will this show up in Bing Search market share results?). There’s no mention of whether or not the Bing results could be toggled on or off, or what an obvious search query for a local result will return via Bing. Will a Search Charm search for “control panel” return web results, for example? (if so, should we expect a land grab for new SEO keywords?).  Obviously there’s still much more to learn about the way that this new Bing-enabled search will work.

Earlier this week, financial analyst Rick Sherlund called for Microsoft to sell off Bing and/or Xbox as a way to improve the return of cash to shareholders and improve the profitability and cash flow of the business”. That suggestion, as Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley pointed out doesn’t fit in with Microsoft’s newfound image as a “devices and services” company, with Xbox as a core device and Bing as a core service, built into all kinds of Microsoft products from Xbox itself to Windows Phone, and now, as we’re seeing, into Windows itself.  Regardless of what analysts like Sherlund might think, if it wasn’t clear before it should be apparent now that Bing is central to Microsoft’s plans.

And even though we think that much of the “Windows 8 is in trouble” talk is overblown, it’s clear that Microsoft is planning to promote Bing from within Windows, and give Windows a more robust and visually appealing set of search capabilities by harnessing the power of Bing.  Can Bing help Windows, and/or can Windows help Bing?

It’s still far too early to tell how this new inter-divisional partnership will pan out, or if users will be turned off by too much Bing. What do you think, are you looking forward to a more Bing-like search experience from within Windows?