Much of the press attention this week -- including mine -- has been focused on the consumer side of the search business, with the launch of Wikia, the new for-profit venture from Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales.
Turns out there is big news for the enterprise search market as well, with Microsoft's pending purchase of Fast Search and Transfer.
New York Times technology blogger Saul Hansell says the deal makes sense, thanks to Fast's solid engineering chops, corps of search researchers and new products geared to Web site publishers. The latter factor should help Microsoft's ambitions to get into selling advertising for other sites, Hansell notes.
When I blogged about the burgeoning enterprise search market in November, I likened it to a scenario out of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," with many companies finding the available options too expensive and unwieldy or not sophisticated enough for their tastes.
Though he avoids the hackneyed fairy-tale allusion, Kirk Koenigsbauer, general manager of Microsoft's Sharepoint Business Group, makes a similar point in his post about the acquisition on the Microsoft Enterprise Search Blog. He writes:
In enterprise search to date, organizations have basically been forced to choose between high-end, specialized products and more mainstream, infrastructure solutions-- but not anymore. The combination of Microsoft and FAST gives customers a new choice--a single vendor with solutions that span the full range of enterprise search needs.
Koenigsbauer goes on to say that Microsoft believes search will become "a fundamental capability in every organization's productivity infrastructure."
There seems little doubt of that, writes analyst Guy Creese on his Pattern Finder blog. He notes that Fast CTO Bjorn Olstad said as much last year. Creese expects deep-pocketed infrastructure players like Oracle and IBM to rush into the search space, much as theybought their way into business intelligence last year.
He calls the Fast purchase "a huge coup" for Microsoft, because its addition means the software giant now has solutions in all three areas of the enterprise search market: "(1) cheap and OK, (2) relatively inexpensive and an 80 percent solution, and (3) expensive and sophisticated." Fast fits handily into the third niche, while Microsoft has Search Server 2008 Express and Sharepoint Search for the first and second niches, says Creese.
Judging by thetesty remarks that were exchanged between representatives of Microsoft and Google at an industry event in April, enterprise search -- not the more ballyhooed desktop productivity applications -- is shaping up to be the battle that matters between the two companies.