Finding information through keyword searches is just a beginning, Microsoft's chairman tells his CEO audience.
Having been outmaneuvered in the booming market for Internet ads pegged to search results, Microsoft is trying to change the rules, arguing that keyword queries are merely one way of finding information.
In a speech to CEOs last week at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus, Bill Gates said the company will bring Windows and Office into play as it battles Google and others for contracts to install search systems at companies. "It's about not just finding the information, [but] are we using it, getting insights into it, sharing it with other people?" Microsoft's chairman said.
To that end, Microsoft disclosed plans for search software to shield workers from the information explosion caused in no small part by the popularity of its own products. The Windows Live Search client can give PC users a single view of Microsoft's four major search systems: Windows Desktop Search for a PC's hard disk, SharePoint Server for company networks, and MSN Search and Windows Live on the Web. A test version is due this summer.
E-Mail Knowledge Profile
Microsoft says its upcoming SharePoint Server 2007, due early next year, will include a feature called Knowledge Network that compiles profiles of employees and their areas of expertise by examining their E-mail. A test version is due this week. Microsoft also says it will ship a subset of SharePoint's functions as SharePoint Server For Search 2007, aimed at midsize companies and departments that want to search E-mail systems, network drives, and Web sites. Both versions of SharePoint will contain APIs for connecting to systems from SAP and Oracle's Siebel unit.
In a message to customers, Gates estimated that white-collar workers spend 30% of their computer time looking for information. "Faced with the endless deluge of data that is generated every second of every day, how can we hope to keep up?" he wrote. Short answer: Microsoft's search tools.
None better to solve information overload than he who created it.
Google is offering its search algorithms in servers that companies can install themselves. Google last month introduced its OneBox APIs, which let its search appliance comb data from popular business apps. And Google isn't Microsoft's only competitor here. IBM last week released software that searches text fields, documents, and multimedia files to compile statistics on business performance. Intranet search company Fast Search & Transfer, which has won deals with Deutsche Telekom, Getty Images, and UPS, last week bought a Norwegian consulting company to acquire data cleansing technology.
But Microsoft has two assets they don't: its Windows monopoly and the huge number of programmers who write software based on its technology. "This is Microsoft's play against Google--the 2 million Visual Studio users," says Rick Sherlund, a managing director at Goldman Sachs. Microsoft is building into the next version of Visual Studio a tool code-named Atlas for creating Ajax-powered Web sites; Atlas apps will be able to tap into Microsoft's new adCenter auction system for Internet advertising. Google also is trying to build an Internet-based portfolio of software that developers can tap into; it will include the ability to store files and search them over the Web. "That's the endgame," Sherlund says.
Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, due in January, will be able to search a PC's hard disk, the Web, and company intranets through a search bar and "search-oriented folders" that let users create custom views, says Microsoft VP Kurt DelBene. One target of searches will be sites hosted on SharePoint servers, technology DelBene says Google hasn't sufficiently accounted for in its algorithm. "SharePoint is exploding within our customer base, and Google hasn't paid a lot of attention to promoting SharePoint sites as first-class search results," he says.
It remains to be seen whether Microsoft--or anyone else--can stanch the information deluge enough to simultaneously raise productivity and lower the stress of those drowning in it.
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