Microsoft’s search story has been a bad one. Not because the tools are lacking; it’s the marketing that has hurt the product. You’re probably asking, "What search story?" Windows Desktop Search has been out for desktop users for a while, but I have to say the WDS experience on XP sucks. I’m not sure why it changed so much for Vista, but it’s completely different. After experiencing Vista, I look for search everywhere; and, when it’s not there, it’s my first complaint. Vista sold me; search needs to be completely ubiquitous. If your app doesn’t incorporate search, you’re probably not doing your customers justice.
What is Microsoft doing for enterprise search? The answer over the past year has been SharePoint for Search. Now, you’re probably asking why you need SharePoint. This is exactly the problem. You don’t need SharePoint and, honestly, SharePoint doesn’t have anything to do with it, hence the marketing problem. Well, it seems like things are changing. Microsoft is now pushing Search Server (MSS) 2008. Perhaps one of the best things with this announcement is the lighter-weight companion, Search Server 2008 Express. I don’t know all the rules behind when you would want to use one or the other, but this is a great opportunity.
If you’re asking yourself why you’d want MSS when Google has such a strong search technology, I’d have to argue that perceptions aren’t always reality. I’m not saying Google doesn’t have a good product on their hands; I’m just saying MSS is better than you probably think. I live in search and have for the past 9 years. I picked up on Google fairly early and made it part of my life. When I switched to Windows Live, I thought I’d be missing something, but I wasn’t. I haven’t looked back. I’m not saying it’s been a better experience, but it hasn’t been worse. It’s equivalent. With respect to enterprise search, MSS is hands-down a better choice than Google. Why? Security. Google knows search in the public domain; that’s what it’s good at. Grabbing everything and making it discoverable to the masses. Tell me; do you want your company's contract details and competitive info made available to everyone who has access to the intranet or just those with the right need-to-know? Google can’t give you discoverability and security of sensitive material -- it’s all or nothing. Microsoft has been very good at only showing results to those who have access to them. For this reason, I think Microsoft has a stronger enterprise search story. What’s great is that you can now take advantage of this search and the security included in that within your applications.
You're probably wondering what’s new in MSS. Not much. I’ve seen some talk of a streamlined installation and admin experience, use of the OpenSearch standard, performance and indexing enhancements, and my favorite, no pre-set document limits. This last one surprised me a little. Most of these products, especially “express”-style product lines have limits. That’s right, you heard me correctly. MSS Express has no document limits. Well, at least that’s what I’ve read. I find this pretty astounding, honestly. There’s gotta be a catch somewhere, right? Well, there is one, but I think it’s one you can probably live with. MSS Express only supports single server installs. Most people looking for something like this will probably be perfectly fine with that. Others might be just as happy to know they can get MSS Express to create a prototype and then scale up from there, if necessary.
If you’re interested in search, keep an eye on the MSS team’s blog . The official release won’t be out until March-ish 2008, but there is a release candidate available. The only other thing I should really mention is that MSS is intended to be a search-only solution. If you have your sights set on collaboration, SharePoint is still going to be the answer for you. Personally, I’m interested on what MSS can do for applications. It may not be the right fit, but it’s something I’d like to look into more.