In 1995, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT-Q23.680.230.98%) founder and chairman Bill Gates wrote an 8-page memo to his executives entitled “The Internet Tidal Wave,” in which he set out a list of priorities for the world’s largest software company as it sought to chart a course through the early days of the World Wide Web.

He wrote about Microsoft’s need to embrace the Internet, and he pointed out one still-tiny corner of it to his staff.

"Of particular interest are the sites such as 'YAHOO' which provide subject catalogs and searching," he wrote.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, it didn't make Internet search a serious priority until much later, after a certain upstart named Google Inc. (GOOG-Q415.16-0.84-0.20%) was well on its way to establishing itself as the go-to destination for Web queries. The company has been playing catch-up from the No. 3 position ever since.

But 14 years after Mr. Gates warned of the impending tech tsunami – and after several missteps – Microsoft may finally have a competitive answer to Google.

Late last month, the Redmond, Wash.-based company took the wraps off a new search engine known as Bing, and early results indicate it might finally be getting some traction.

According to a study from comScore Inc., Microsoft saw its share of total U.S. searches rise from 9.1% to 11.1% during the same time.

Google still holds a commanding lead in the search game with more than 64% of all queries, while Yahoo accounted for about 20% of the market in April.

Although Microsoft still trails its Silicon Valley rivals by a significant margin, analysts are already calling Bing the company’s biggest victory to date in search and an important step forward for the software giant. And Microsoft is preparing to spend up to $100-million in marketing the site to make sure consumers know there’s a new search kid in town.

“After being at it for 4 or 5 years, they are finally getting a pretty solid product out there,” said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a research firm. “If nothing else, it'll at least get people to realize that Microsoft is in this game and that there is an alternative to Google and maybe they will start using it for certain kinds of searches.”

Since launching MSN search in 2005, Microsoft has gone to great lengths and flexed its marketing muscles to encourage users to try its search offerings. One program offered users rebates from certain online retailers found through the search engine, while another offered points for searches that could be redeemed for prizes and tickets.

Microsoft’s desire to improve its standing in search and capture a greater share of the billions of advertising dollars it generates was one of the key factors behind its failed $44-billion (U.S.) takeover bid for Yahoo last year.

However, Microsoft says Bing is not a traditional search engine, but is rather a “decision engine,” designed to reduce the number of clicks for users to get the information they are actually looking for, not just the website where that information is located.

According to the company’s own internal research, with traditional search engines, users don’t find the information they are looking for on their first query more than 40% of the time.

Bing pays particular attention to shopping, travel and health categories as well as local businesses and information, areas where Microsoft says users wanted more help with making decisions.

When U.S. users search for UPS, for example, a box pops up alongside the link to the company’s website where the searcher can punch in their tracking number directly.

“We are still in the early days of discovering the full potential of search,” said Frederick Savoye, Microsoft’s “leader of the Bing Core Search team.”

The idea is that users perform a number of searches to get answers to questions such as “What camera should I buy?” and that by providing more information on the initial search, users can find the right material quickly, enabling them to make decisions faster.

It is not just about what information is presented that’s different, but the way it is visually organized for the user, Mr. Savoye explains.

Bing aims to simplify the search process by providing a “Best Match” link to the official website of major brands. An “explorer pane” on one side of the page provides options for refining the search and digging up additional information. If a user were to search for Honda Civic, for example, the explorer pane will display links to reviews, parts dealers and photo galleries.