In China, Microsoft steps up efforts with Bing, Windows Azure

Microsoft plans to tailor more consumer products to the Chinese market

Microsoft VP Ya-Qin Zhang

Microsoft VP Ya-Qin Zhang

Bing has barely any market share in China, but Microsoft hopes to change that in the next year or two by investing more resources into the local version of the search engine.

"We have 1,000 people in the Bing team in China," said Microsoft vice president Ya-Qin Zhang on Monday. "The vast majority used to work in English and still work in English. But we are putting more people to support the Chinese market."

The U.S. software giant is bringing more brain power to Bing after the company announced over a year ago it would expand its presence in China. Microsoft's so-called "go big" strategy for China has involved hiring 1,000 additional employees to work in research, enterprise services, and customer support.

Microsoft developers in China are currently working on improving Bing's search algorithm to make it more relevant to Chinese users, said Zhang, who is also chairman of Microsoft's Asia-Pacific R&D group.

Bing, while more popular in the U.S., has less than a 1 percent share of China's search market, according to data analytics site CNZZ.com. But Microsoft is making it a bigger part of its software. In Windows 8.1, for example, users only need to start typing when switched to the modern UI, and all their words will appear in the Bing search bar.

In October, the company opened a new research center in the Chinese city of Suzhou, and the facility has so far recruited 200 engineers, said Yongdong Wang, general manager of Microsoft Search Technology Center Asia.

"We hope in the next year or two, our efforts will earn us more success in the market," he said.

On the enterprise side, Microsoft last year brought a beta version of its Windows Azure to China, and demand for the cloud software has been high. Several thousand preview accounts for Windows Azure have been made available, all have been taken by prospective customers.

"In the enterprise applications, China is catching up," said Zhang in an interview. "When you talk with the companies, some of them are leapfrogging the West and getting into the cloud."

Microsoft has also developed software for municipalities in China, to help the local governments better manage city systems and resources. The software, called CityNext, is slated to go into use in the Chinese cities of Hainan, Wuhan, and Xi'an.

Microsoft's renewed focus on China occurs as the company shifts gears. It's preparing to hire a new CEO and developing more hardware products, including its Surface tablets. Last year, the company also announced it would acquire Nokia's handset business.

The moves will help Microsoft deliver a "family of devices" to consumers built with company software. In addition, more Microsoft products tailored for the Chinese market are coming, Zhang said. He pointed to not only phones and tablets, but also emerging device areas such as wearables, cars and "smart homes."

"China is primarily a consumer market, so we have to make sure we deliver the technology to leverage that," he added.

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