Up to now they make huge progress and their engine is a sufficient help for everyone using a computer on a daily basis.
Each day you have to answer question requires specific knowledge or algorithm. In many cases you can find specific Websites helping to answer those questions. But having one source, answer those questions, combine the results for as many domains as Wolfram|Alpha do is unique on the Net (AFAIK).
- I have to offer 10,000 USD, how much is this in EUR?
Simple type e.g. "convert 10000 USD to EUR" - viola.
- I want to arrange a telco with someone in Shanghai on a given date / time?
Simple type e.g. "12.10.2010 16:00 in Shanghai" - viola.
- What is the human readable date / time for a given unix timestamp?
Simple type e.g. "unix timestamp 130464000 to cet" - viola.
- Infos for a given Website
Simple type e.g. "www.orbeon.com"
- What the hack was port 541 used for
Type "port 541"
- ...you see what I mean?
creating a wizard to convert any given unix timestamp to a given named timezone (specific query shown above) i created the following widget (it takes me 10 min. of my limited time ;-)
There are still lots of limitations, e.g. for many knowledge domains only US based sources are available. The combination of knowledge is still limited, a fancy query, like "weather the day Jimmy Hendrix died" does not work for many scenarios right now. But they getting better each day....