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Microsoft, Fast Combo To Yield Better Search Dev Tools

Microsoft, which has said for months that it fields the best enterprise search, is spending another billion to bolster that claim.

The company is buying Fast Search & Transfer ASA, an Oslo-based provider of enterprise search technology, for about $1.2 billion. The deal is expected to close in the second calendar quarter of 2008.

The addition of Fast's technologies will give developers a richer toolset with which to deliver specific and customizable searches, executives from both companies told reporters and analysts on Tuesday.

There is a "desire to have a more sophisticated development platform, to pivot searches off of different data elements," said Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business Division, on the call.

"If you're on Best Buy looking at plasma TVs you may want to refine your search by screen size or resolution or other elements. One of the things Fast has done well is develop platform capabilities that allow our customers to have a wide range of domain-specific searches. And Fast deals in very, very high volumes. What Fast has done in scalability and sophistication of their development platform is a great compliment to what we do in the core with Share Point."

John Lervik, CEO of Fast, concurred. "We see search becoming a platform. It's not just about documents and e-mails but also handling structured and numerical data in a unified manner. That's something we've worked on for seven or eight years. Also behavioral data. Not just connecting people to information but also to other people with expertise."

In that respect what Microsoft and Fast appear to be doing will contend not only with Internet search kingpin Google's push into the enterprise but with IBM's inside-the-firewall Omni Find expertise.

Neither executive would comment on how Fast's technology might bolster Microsoft's attack on Google's Web search dominance

"We cannot go into detailed planning until we get through the regulatory period [but] absolutely we were excited about the great team, the expertise that Lervik and Fast R&D have. There were discussions about where there's relevance and the work we're doing in Web search but we have nothing to announce at this time," Raikes said.

Still, today's news sparked skepticism among pundits who say Microsoft tends to buy its way into key market when its own R&D efforts fail.

"Ever notice that Microsoft -- with cash to burn apparently -- waits for the obvious to become inevitable and then ends up paying huge premiums for companies in order to catch up to reality? We saw it with aQuantive, Softricity and Groove Networks," wrote Dana Gardner, principal of Inter-Arbor Solutions in his Briefings Direct blog.

Microsoft insiders say that the Fast offering, which already runs well on Sharepoint, will become the company's highest-end, most complete enterprise search option. The company already offers a free "Express" search, Search Server and SharePoint Search Server. Fast would run atop the last, a spokeswoman said.

About the Author

Barbara Darrow is Industry Editor for Redmond Developer News, Redmond magazine and Redmond Channel Partner. She has covered technology and business issues for 20 years.

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