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Microsoft's Ready To Be Your Enterprise Search Vendor

Microsoft plans to rebrand and improve its SharePoint Server for Search as Search Server 2008 and offer a free, smaller-scale version, too.

Microsoft for a long time didn't appear too interested in enterprise search, pouring all its energy into SharePoint search functionality and selling the little-known product SharePoint Server for Search on the side. Now it suddenly thinks it can transform the market.

Microsoft plans sometime next year to rebrand and improve SharePoint Server for Search as Search Server 2008 and come out with a free, smaller-scale version called Search Server Express. Both could give Google's business search products a run for their money at the low end of the market, with the ability to index unlimited numbers of documents, search a variety of data, and do so with a simple interface.

Who's Got What In Enterprise Search?
AUTONOMY High-end player with features like embedding relevant links in text and automatic categorization

ENDECA Another high-end company that's replacing keywords with "discovery," partially through what it calls "guided navigation"

FAST SEARCH AND TRANSFER Also at the high end, providing customizable, flexible options

GOOGLE Cheap appliances brought business search to new markets

IBM AND YAHOO Jointly launched OmniFind Yahoo Edition, free but limited

MICROSOFT Free and cheap Search Server line will make a move to trump Google next year
The search engine powering Search Server 2008 and Search Server Express will be built from SharePoint's search technology. It will use SharePoint's Search Center interface, which looks similar to Live Search, Microsoft's consumer-oriented Web search engine. Both Search Server products will provide keyword-based search that works like Web search but shows results relevant to business. They will have a single administrative dashboard that can display query and results reporting and let admins tweak link relevance and set indexing rules.

In the small to midsize market, Microsoft's main competition is Google and a joint, free offering from IBM and Yahoo, but it probably won't stop there. Search Server products will run on Microsoft's Windows Server and can use SQL Server for data needs and be customized with .Net programming, so they're likely to be ready for use in businesses that are heavy Microsoft users. The easy-to-use interface will trump some more expensive products, says Forrester analyst Matt Brown. Search Server will search enterprise content management stores like IBM FileNet and EMC Documentum at no extra charge; some high-end competitors charge thousands of dollars for such functionality, although Google also offers it for free.

Still, Microsoft has a ways to go. Search Server products won't immediately be integrated into Windows Vista's desktop search. They'll also require companies to have other Microsoft products installed, including Window Server, the .Net Framework, Internet Information Services, and Windows SharePoint Services. Some advanced search features also are missing. Search Server doesn't automatically categorize and organize information like some expensive products do. It also doesn't provide a people search capability for locating employees who have expertise in specific areas. The full SharePoint application, which Microsoft is positioning as a step up from Search Server, has this capability.


Business search offerings generally fall into two categories: complicated, expensive, and powerful; and cheap, easy, and relatively limited in scale. High-end search platforms from companies like Autonomy can cost several hundred thousand dollars and take months to set up. Cheap and free platforms from Yahoo and Google set caps on the numbers of documents they can search, lack real security, and/or tend to be too much like Web search engines, with the needs of businesses as an afterthought.

The market opportunity is there: The average information worker does 20 searches a day and spends 9.5 hours a week looking for information, Microsoft says. Of the 6 million U.S. businesses, only 1% use enterprise search products. In an InformationWeek Research survey, only 30% of the 250 IT pros polled say integrated search tools are widely used in their companies; 53% say they're little used or not used at all.

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