Microsoft adds to SharePoint collaboration capabilities

While Microsoft's Internet search strategy involves courting Yahoo, its behind-the-firewall search efforts this week center on the company's SharePoint collaboration platform.

Microsoft unveiled two search products based on SharePoint, including a free product, at its Office SharePoint Conference 2008 event this week. The company also is taking the next steps with its hosted SharePoint and Exchange services and will announce plans for linking SharePoint with the company's Silverlight display technology.

A lot of attention has been given to Microsoft's proposed US$44.6 million buyout of Internet search company Yahoo. But the unveiling of SharePoint search services this week have nothing to do with Yahoo, said Kirk Koenigsbauer, general manager of the Microsoft Office business platform team. Instead, the two products being introduced, Microsoft Search Server 2008 and Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express, are for internal enterprise usage and built on the SharePoint code base.

"They're used for what's called enterprise search, which is search inside the firewall," Koenigsbauer said. Users could, for example, search for an employee claim form, a Word document, a report, or a map of a building on the corporate campus. "A single Search Server can crawl up to 50 million documents in what we call the index," he said.

Search Server 2008 Express is a free product for searching one server. Search Server scales to as many servers as desired, Koenigsbauer said. The predecessor to these products was Microsoft SharePoint Server for Search. The new versions add capabilities, such as a federation feature, which reaches out to different services and pulls them into a new set of results.

The predecessor to these products was Microsoft SharePoint Server for Search. The new versions add capabilities, such as a federation feature, which reaches out to different services and pulls them into a new set of results.

In the hosted space, the company is announcing a broad-based beta of Microsoft SharePoint Online. A previous beta was limited to users with at least 5,000 seats. "Now, enterprises and [mid-size] businesses can subscribe to SharePoint in a subscription business model and take advantage of the choice we're now providing customers," in the ability to access and use the technology, said Eron Kelly, director of product management for business online services at Microsoft. "We believe that by 2010, at least 25 per cent of our Office users will be using some kind of [online] service provided by Microsoft," he noted.

The company also is offering a broad-based beta version of its Exchange Online hosted product.

General availability of both the Exchange and SharePoint hosted services is planned for the second half of 2008. The new online services will let users access services like e-mail, calendaring, and Web conferencing at predictable subscription prices. As with most SaaS (software-as-a-service) offerings, users also can get up and running quickly. "You can go from zero to SharePoint in 60 seconds," Kelly noted.

While there is limited customization capability in Microsoft's current hosted platform, plans call for expanding this in the future, he said. Currently, customers can use templates but cannot do custom-coding.

At the conference, Microsoft also will announce Silverlight Blueprint for SharePoint. Silverlight is Microsoft's browser plug-in display technology for rich Internet applications. The blueprint includes sample applications combining Silverlight and SharePoint, detailed guidance and best practices, and rich data visualizations and interactivity.

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