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2/19/2008
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Microsoft's Fast Search And Transfer Lays Out Product Roadmap

Fast brings its new personalization technology to the table, and will make up the high end of Microsoft's search portfolio.

With so much attention on Microsoft's hostile bid on Yahoo, it's easily forgotten that Microsoft has a friendly, $1.2 billion acquisition underway for a search technology company that is probably more meaningful to Microsoft's business customers than Yahoo search.

That company, Fast Search and Transfer, is holding its annual user conference in Orlando this week, and touting a new technology offering it calls "interaction management." In an interview Tuesday with InformationWeek, Fast executive VP of global marketing, Zia Zaman, described this technology and provided some insight into what the Microsoft/Fast marriage might look light. The company plans a formal announcement of the technology at a later date.

Fast's interaction management technology is designed to provide more personalized content for users of its enterprise search platform. The technology underpinnings of interaction management come from a very different world, though: a consumer personalization and recommendation engine for music and video games developed by AgentArts, which Fast acquired last July.

The term "interaction management" isn't new; business intelligence and customer-relationship management software vendors have used the same term. Fast, however, defines interaction management as a top layer of technology that gives users Amazon-like personalization that sits on top of its core search engine, which sits on top of its base of content analytics.

A pharmaceutical company might use Fast's interaction management technology to customize a scientist's "work pane" to concepts and content that's most relevant to his job, Zaman explained.

Meanwhile, technology integration talks between Microsoft and Fast are just beginning, Zaman said. "We've just met the parents and have not yet moved in together," he quipped.

Still, its clear that Microsoft sees Fast as bringing search capabilities to customers beyond what they can get from the Microsoft Search Server 2008 product (formerly SharePoint Server for Search). Fast's Enterprise Search Platform will be the elite -- and more costly -- offering in the Microsoft search portfolio.

In the coming year, Fast will deliver an upgrade of its core search technology, Zaman said. It'll also be working on technologies that broaden users' access unstructured content, including such things as voicemail content. It's not alone, as unstructured content access is a big area of focus for lots of software vendors in the broader area of information management.

Microsoft, meanwhile, will provide Fast with the potential to get a lot more recognition for its technology. Fast suffered a rough 2007, in which it underwent a restructuring to cut operational costs by $12 million per quarter.

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