January 8, 2008

Microsoft in enterprise search

Microsoft has certainly had a number of false starts in search. At the 1997 Verity user conference, a Microsoft employee told me of his confidence Microsoft would surpass Verity in enterprise search the next year. Yeah, right.

In September, 2003, a nice woman wrote me to tell me she had joined Microsoft and would personally write the ranking engine for MSN search. That worked out great too.

Now Microsoft has a multi-faceted enterprise search strategy. Guy Creese seems mightily impressed. Should we, for once, be impressed too?

Frankly, yes. So far as I can tell, most traditional text search products have atrophied, including Verity before it was bought by Autonomy. And I’m skeptical about Autonomy’s Bayesian-everything approach. Oracle and Google, in different ways, consistently fail to round out their products. So if FAST’s technology can ever be fleshed out and stabilized, it indeed could be a market leader or even dominator.

But now that I’ve said that, let’s be a little careful about figuring out which enterprise search market(s) Microsoft could realistically lead or dominate, and when anybody would care. The market for enterprise search is medium-sized — $1 billionish per year, I think, depending on how one counts. This is much smaller than the market for relational database management and RDBMS-based business intelligence, for two good reasons:

Basically, while search certainly saves people some time finding files, and occasionally has other uses as well, enterprise search on the whole isn’t terribly valuable or useful.

So on the one hand, we can say Microsoft is getting very well-positioned in the market for generic enterprise search, knowledge management, and the like. On the other hand, we can say “So what?” Until text analytic technology morphs into a form that can be used as a serious application platform, all text market positions will remain vulnerable and tenuous.


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