Microsoft opens up Bing access and adds chat history and export features

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks during an event at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, on Feb. 7, 2023.

Chona Kasinger | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft said Thursday that it’s dispensing with the waiting list it has had in place for the past three months for its revamped Bing search engine, allowing anyone with a Microsoft account to use it. The new Bing, revealed in February, features a chatbot smartened up with the GPT-4 artificial intelligence model from OpenAI that’s similar to the startup’s viral ChatGPT bot.

Google remains the leader in search advertising. Microsoft wants to become a more formidable challenger after introducing Bing in 2009, with help from OpenAI. Microsoft has said that for every percentage point of share it gains in the highly profitable search category, its revenue will increase by $2 billion.

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With its appearance in late November, ChatGPT has sparked a wave of interest in generative AI technologies that create text, images and other content in response to human input. Microsoft provides cloud services for ChatGPT and offers GPT-4 to businesses looking to draw on generative AI.

In addition to augmenting Bing with the GPT-4, Microsoft has announced plans to incorporate the AI model into its Microsoft 365 productivity software and bring out a chatbot for security practitioners, among other products. Google, for its part, is working to add generative AI to its search engine, and it has a language model rivaling GPT-4 that developers have begun using.

“We have really good, positive signal from the time we launched,” Divya Kumar, global head of marketing for search and AI at Microsoft, told CNBC in an interview. Last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Bing had crossed 100 million daily active users.

But while Bing has taken share of consumer web searches, it has not won share of search revenue in the nearly three months since Microsoft introduced the new version during a press event on its Redmond, Washington, campus, Bernstein analysts led by Mark Shmulik wrote in a Wednesday note to clients.

“At its heights Bing hit #4 on the US iOS App download rank in early February,” the Bernstein analysts wrote, citing Apptopia data. “Following the launch of the new Bing, Bing’s total app download volume has increased by 4x. However, Bing download momentum declined throughout March and April.” Bernstein has the equivalent of buy ratings on Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft shares.

Now, Microsoft is bulking up Bing with more capabilities in addition to broadening access.

Microsoft is adding a way to get back to previous chat conversations, which ChatGPT has offered for months. It will provide a way to export chats to Microsoft Word documents. It also will start showing images and other media in chat messages when appropriate.

And over time, Bing will add integrations to third-party services such as OpenTable and Wolfram Alpha, enabling people to view and take action on current information when talking with the chatbot. OpenAI announced a similar concept called plug-ins for ChatGPT in March, but those wishing to try them must first join a waiting list.

Kumar said the company will provide more details on how developers can build for the Bing chatbot at its Microsoft Build developer conference, which starts on May 23.

People still must go through Microsoft’s Edge web browser on PCs or the Bing app on mobile devices in order to use the new Bing, including its chatbot. That means Google has yet to allow people to use the Bing chatbot from Google’s dominant Chrome browser. “We’re still early in the journey and were still learning,” Kumar said.

Edge has increased its share of the web browsing market every quarter for the past two years, Yusuf Mehdi, consumer marketing chief, wrote in a blog post. Microsoft includes Edge in its Windows 10 and Windows 11 operating systems, and the default search engine in Edge is Bing.

Microsoft is updating Edge so that when people open a result that appears during a Bing chat, the chat will move to a sidebar in Edge in order to keep the conversation going, Mehdi wrote.

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