Ask Paul: January 5 (Premium)

Happy New Year from the frigid Northeast. Here is the first "Ask Paul" of 2018.
Can Bing be successful?
Chris_Kez asks:
During the last Windows Weekly, Chris Caposella noted that the roll-out of Cortana is dependent upon Bing. This seems obvious, but somehow I hadn't fully made the connection earlier. I seem to recall previous complaints about Cortana availability being pinned on the challenges of localized language translation. Is that still part of the problem, or is it really more about the simple lack of Bing usage around the world? Or is the issue not just usage but also machine learning/AI (i.e. how "smart" Bing is)? Does Microsoft have a plan to tackle all of these issues, and what is the time-frame? Do they have some kind of road-map for Cortana or is this just something that is being pulled along behind Windows 10?
So, this is a huge topic. And I have opinions and thoughts, and it's a mess.

I am in that crowd that never quite got Microsoft's need to continue with Bing. It's a failure by any reasonable measure and, like Zune, is more a butt of jokes than a serious competitor.

But then Bing for Business happened. And while that name may trigger a chuckle at first, it makes sense. And it makes particular sense given how Microsoft has evolved in the years since it sought to acquire Yahoo. Today, Microsoft is funneling everything through its cloud efforts, and sprinkling AI and machine learning across its product stacks. In this world, Bing goes from being an outlier to being a key component of its future successes. And Bing for Business is the cherry on the top, if you will. It is the part of Bing---really, the only part---that actual users will ever use. And that makes tons of sense.

If you're looking for Bing or Cortana to be successful with end users, to be used on PCs, or mobile devices, or whatever, my advice is to forget that. It's never happening. Instead, Bing is what I think of as an ingredient in the services that consumers will interact with directly. It's part of a broader set of back-end services that Microsoft can offer to the companies that will provide those consumer services.

The exception, of course, is business users. And that's why Bing for Business is so interesting. It makes Bing as a "thing that people see and think about" viable. Bing as a mobile app or a web destination is a non-starter for mainstream consumers. But Bing for Business makes sense. It plays to Microsoft's strengths.

I can't speak to Microsoft's "plan" beyond what they've said and done so far, and my takeaway from that is above. But the other thing you mentioned that kind of resonates with me is Chris Capossela's contention that Microsoft will not walk away from consumer, and that consumers and business are intrinsically linked in Microsoft's collective opinion.

He's right. But maybe not in the way that many technology enthusiasts would prefer.

That is, there are basically no major Microsoft consumer products that act as ...

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