Microsoft unveils new search tools for businesses

Microsoft Corp. will unveil new tools today that make it easier for office workers to share and locate information as the company seeks to fend off rivals such as Google Inc. in the enterprise software search market.

Jim Murphy, an analyst at AMR Research, said Microsoft is filling a long-time gap in its business search products while seeking to block Google -- which dominates Web search -- from gaining ground in the market for corporate information search.

"Microsoft has been remiss in not providing adequate search on the desktop and for corporations," Murphy said. "They are filling in a gap and they are defending their territory from Google and others."

While Microsoft is the biggest supplier of business software inside companies, the market for search tools has been a fragmented one, led by Autonomy Corp.. But Google has made rapid gains over the past two years to become the No. 2 supplier, according to market researcher IDC.

Windows Live Search, which will be available for free from Microsoft's website, allows users to search for documents stored on their computers, on departmental computer networks or out on the Internet and see the results in one place.

Last week, Google introduced version four of Google Desktop, which offers similar search powers.

Microsoft will also add new tools to its Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 offering that makes it easier to collaborate with other people within a large business, using criteria such as expertise on a certain subject.

Murphy said offering search tools for businesses was a way for Microsoft to remain dominant on the desktop and could convince companies to buy future versions of new software releases such as Microsoft Office.

"To me they are trying to ensure their continued position on the desktop and make themselves irreplaceable," he said. "They want to solidify their position and remain the go-to desktop vendor."

The new search tools come as the world's biggest software maker seeks to catch rivals in both the business and lucrative Internet search markets dominated by the likes of Google.

At the same time Microsoft is also making a big push into web services and has vowed to keep investing in a variety of technologies as it seeks to transform the way both businesses and consumers operate on the Internet.

The core of this plan is Windows Live, an advertising-funded, one-stop shop for services from email, to instant messaging, to blogs that targets the fast-growing online advertising market.

But in the area of enterprise search, Microsoft said the company's current and future offerings would seek to address the difficulties users face when trying to act on information once they have found it.

The company highlighted the importance of search tools for organisations by citing an IDC estimate that workers spend up to 2.5 hours a day searching for information, or 30 percent of their work time.

Microsoft said enterprise search via Microsoft Office SharePoint would be available to most businesses later this year with the next version of Microsoft Office. It will also release a test version of Windows Live Search sometime this summer.

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