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Microsoft will beef up SharePoint search when Office 14 ships

Microsoft will beef up SharePoint search when Office 14 ships

More powerful processing of structured and unstructured data promised

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Microsoft said Tuesday that it plans to formally integrate enterprise search technology from its $1.2 billion (£811 million) acquisition of Fast Search and Transfer (FAST) a year ago into its popular SharePoint content management platform.

However, the new product, called FAST Search for SharePoint, won't ship until the next version of Microsoft Office, codenamed Office 14, does, said Jared Andersen, a senior product manager for enterprise search at Microsoft.

Andersen declined to say when that would be, though some expect it to ship next year .

FAST Search for SharePoint will be aimed at enterprises and designed to work "out of the box" with large SharePoint document repositories, said Andersen.

Scalability is one of the FAST software's strongest traits. When Microsoft bought Oslo, Norway-based FAST last January, it bragged that it would become the only vendor to offer a unified enterprise search platform capable of sorting and searching through billions of documents.

By comparison, the existing search features in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) have trouble handling repositories with more than 50 million documents, Ovum analyst Madan Sheina wrote last month.

The new FAST Search for SharePoint will also bring "more advanced linguistic capabilities" and "more powerful processing" of both structured and unstructured content, Microsoft's Andersen said.

Betas for FAST Search will arrive "very much in line with Office 14's betas," he said. Customers will need to buy SharePoint Enterprise Client Access Licenses (CALs) in order to get the software.

In the meantime, customers who want such features now can license another new product, ESP for SharePoint.

ESP is based on FAST technology but is not specially-rewritten for SharePoint, Andersen said. Customers who buy ESP today will be able to upgrade to FAST Search for SharePoint.

Microsoft made the announcement during its FASTforward enterprise search conference, which is taking place through Wednesday in Las Vegas.

John Lervik, corporate vice-president of Microsoft Enterprise Search and former CEO of FAST, left Microsoft last month.

Also last month, two Microsoft competitors merged when Autonomy bought Interwoven for $775 million .

Microsoft will continue to separately develop the search platform in MOSS, Andersen said.

That platform serves as the foundation for two broader enterprise search products: Search Server and Search Server Express.

Search Server will become Microsoft's mid-tier, paid enterprise search software, while Search Server Express remains its low-end, free version .

Released a year ago, Search Server Express 2008 has been downloaded 100,000 times, said Andersen. He declined to say when the next versions of those products would be available, or what features would be in them.

Microsoft doesn't expect to make FAST the underlying platform for its entire enterprise search software line up until about 2013, or when the version of Office after this one ships.

"That's certainly what we're working towards," Andersen said. He disagreed with the suggestion that this was too slow and leaving customers dissatisfied. "We've made tremendous progress. Customers are very interested in our roadmap, and we are being as transparent as we can," he said.

Microsoft also plans to introduce another version, FAST Search for Internet Business. That will be targeted at companies running public Web sites, and will compete with products such as Google Inc.'s Site Search. A beta of FAST Search for Internet Business will be available in the second half of this year.

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