If you have ever manually run Windows Update to see if there is anything new, you might have noticed an optional item called Bing Desktop. What is this extra and do you need it? After seeing it for what seems like years, I finally succumbed and installed it.
It is odd that Bing Desktop is offered as a part of Windows Update, because it is not part of Windows. It is simply an extra stand-alone utility that you can download and install. It is an app that runs on the desktop and it works with Windows 7 or 8.
It has several functions and the two most obvious are the wallpaper changer and the Bing search widget. If you have ever used Bing (bing.com) to search the web, you will have noticed that, unlike Google’s plain white background, Bing’s is a photograph. The photos are superb and Bing Desktop syncs your PC’s desktop with Bing’s photo. Every day you’ll get a new wallpaper photo and it is a nice feature.
The desktop widget is a search box that saves you having to start a web browser in order to perform a search of the web. You can enter a word or phrase into the search box and a browser window opens with the results.
The browser that opens is the default. Microsoft would prefer you to use Internet Explorer of course, but if you have set the default to Chrome, for example, the search results will open in Chrome.
The widget can be left on the desktop and whenever you need to search the web and you don't have a browser open, just type in the Bing box and hit Enter. It snaps to the screen edges if you click and drag it and when it is snapped to the top, it shrinks to a thin blue line and almost completely disappears. Mouse over this line and the widget appears. This is similar to the way the taskbar can be set to auto-hide.
An interesting feature is that if you have copied any text to the clipboard in an application, clicking the Bing search box automatically pastes it in. It is quite intelligent and it won’t paste in a huge chunk of text if you are word processing for example, but it will paste in the text if it is one or two words.
There are three small icons just underneath the search box and the first of these displays the weather for the next six days. You can add one of more locations to show the weather for, so you could show the weather where you live and the weather for somewhere else, such as the ski slopes, the beach or wherever your next holiday destination will be.
The second icon shows the latest news stories in a vertically scrolling window. There are tabs for All, local, World, Business and Politics. The news stories are clickable, but instead of going straight to the story source, they actually perform a Bing search. On the one hand you can see multiple sources for the story, but on the other hand it takes two clicks instead of one to view a story.
The third icon is used to view your Facebook account. If you think Facebook has become bloated, cluttered and ad-laden these days, this could be useful. It has a minimalist design and it displays the news feed, friend requests, messages and notifications. All the items are clickable and clicking a message for example, opens a browser showing Facebook messaging so you can start typing a message straight away. Clicking an item in the news feed, such as a link to a story, opens a browser and takes you there.
I wasn’t expecting to like Bing Desktop, but it is actually quite useful.