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Bada Bing, Bada Boom!

Posted by | Posted in Technology | Posted on 02-06-2009

(Yeah OK, so everyone has made that joke…)

Today saw the release of Bing, Microsoft’s rebranded and re-launched web search service. Having had a little play about with it, I can safely say that I like it. Then again, it’s quite a lot like Google Search really.

But that’s no bad thing. Google are known for their simple, clean layouts and user friendly interfaces, and Bing has taken a leaf out of their book and done the same thing. Search results seem relevant and quick to return results, and it has most (if not all) of the useful features that you’ll find with other search engines, such as conversion tools and the ability to search pictures, videos, news, maps, and more.

All in all, Microsoft have done a pretty good job of imitating the competition, but they’ve also added the ability to subscribe to search results via RSS feeds – which I think is an awesome idea. And whereas Google saves your web search history automatically if you’re signed into your Google account, Bing doesn’t (as far as I can tell) but it does allow you to save your search results manually. (I’ve not tried this feature out yet, so don’t quote me on that).

Of course, you get the usual sponsored ads to the right of the standard search results (as per Google) but that’s to be expected. You can also add Bing to your Firefox browser search engine list. As a developer I’d recommend having a quick play about with it. It seems like as good a contender for the top spot in seach as any other, but I don’t know if it’ll be able to push Google off the top spot. That’s quite a lot to ask for, and not something I really see happening. Yahoo, on the other hand, might well have something to worry about…

My manager is off sick from work today. It’s hardly surprising – I don’t think he’s had a holiday this year. We’re always informed of how behind we are with our holiday-booking quota at our monthly team meetings, and I’m usually on the list as being behind with my holiday, but so too is my manager. I guess the hard work has caught up with him somewhat, as it tends to do if you don’t have a break.

Speaking of breaks, I went up north last weekend to organise some stuff for my American Road Trip. Damn, it’s gonna be awesome. We decided to actually rent a full-blown american muscle car for the trip, which means two things – one, our MPG rate will be attrocious (and hence, expensive) and two, we won’t have a lot of luggage space. Never mind though, because driving around the USA in a Ford Mustang is well worth it.

We’ve also booked hotels for the first couple of nights in San Fransisco, and while we’re there we’re going to visit Alcatraz Island and have a look around the prison. Travel insurance is sorted now, too. All in all I can’t wait, and it’s only seven weeks away. Time to go holiday shopping!

I read on the BBC News website that BT has been accused of throttling BBC iPlayer traffic. As you may or may not know, BT is a very popular ISP in the UK, and the BBC iPlayer is a very popular online TV distribution system that allows people in the UK to watch BBC programmes online. Apparently, BT are limiting the bandwidth of iPlayer and YouTube traffic for their lowest-package customers between 5pm and midnight, despite all BT packages being advertised as “up to 8Mb”.

We’ve all heard the uproar from customers about services being offered as “up to 8Mb” when in reality, nobody ever achieves those speeds, but in my opinion this is going one step too far. Their Fair Usage Policy does state that some customers will have online video traffic restricted during peak hours, but what’s the point of offering an 8Mb service if the bandwidth is going to be restricted to less than 1Mb? Even if customers have speeds above 4Mb (which a lot of people do) they still find that their bandwidth is restricted, simply because they don’t pay as much as other customers. In reality, the speed of the line seems irrelavent – it’s the monthly fee that the customers pay that seems to determine the bandwidth usage allowed. The smallest broadband package that BT offers is a measly 10Gb per month, but if you’re able to get 6Mbps, then in my opinion you should achieve that speed until such time as you’ve reached your monthly cap, and not before.

But that just isn’t happening. The line speeds are simply used as a marketing tool to gain customers, and once people are signed up, they’re actual speeds vary according to line quality (as expected) but the ISP also throttles bandwidth according to how much you pay. So even if you find yourself with a brand spanking new net connection, that allows you to achieve somewhere close to the “holy 8Mbps”, your ISP will probably restrict your bandwidth anyway, just because you don’t pay as much as people on higher packages.

The trouble with it is that most people don’t understand the terms and technobabble associated with ISPs and the intarweb. They see a service advertised as “up to 8Mb” and sign up, possibly with the understanding that they might not get 8Mb, but possibly without that understanding also. Then, when they never get 8Mb (or anything close to it) they put it down to the fact that they live far away from their exchange and just accept the situation. But as the BBC News story points out, it’s not the line speed that’s the problem, it’s the ISP.

Something should really be done about it. It’s (kind of) understandable to advertise a service as “up to 8Mb” if it’s possible some people might actually get 8Mb, but don’t hide the fact that you’re throttling bandwidth intentionally under the guise of “line quality” and “distance from the exchange”. That’s just a blatent lie, and people should be made more aware of it before they sign up.

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