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A critical evaluation of MOSS search

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007 or just MOSS) is a replacement for the previous versions of both SharePoint Portal Server (SPS) 2003 and the various search services associated with SharePoint. Like the previous version, the core, lighter-weight Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) bundles freely with Windows.

With respect to search, Microsoft (microsoft.com) has applied new technologies and algorithms to the mix. The search service comes in three editions:

  • WSS Search,
  • Office SharePoint Services 2007, and
  • Enterprise Search in MOSS 2007

All of those tools are optimized first and foremost for searching SharePoint repositories--a useful undertaking given the plethora of SharePoint nodes in the typical large enterprise. However, SharePoint Search is not (yet) well suited to broader enterprise search scenarios.

Recently, a new ingredient was thrown into the mix: Microsoft’s offer to acquire Norwegian search vendor Fast Search & Transfer (FAST). It was an interesting development, not the least of which because Microsoft had been working hard on improving the search capabilities in SharePoint, and finally seemed to get its act together. Redmond clearly had its search products much more coherently aligned than, say, IBM’s confusingly vast array of solutions. Microsoft had invested a lot and was starting to reap the benefits. Why would it acquire a Norwegian competitor hiding in the fjords?

Microsoft’s explanation for an acquisition is probably valid: FAST brings people, technology, time to market and potentially new markets. FAST would certainly come with the engineering teams and technology, and Microsoft may want to pick up the pace on conquering the market, since FAST’s Enterprise Search Platform (ESP) would allow it to get into the complex, multirepository enterprise search scenarios that MOSS isn't really ready to address.

What will be interesting to see is how ESP will be integrated in the product portfolio. Will bits and pieces start showing up in Windows Server and SharePoint, or will this year bring us Microsoft Enterprise Search 2010? It's a nice idea that Microsoft would acquire anything "fast" ... whether the transition is going to be quick, as well, is another matter.

Until then, you may be looking to use MOSS Search within your enterprise. Below, we present an abbreviated version of our research conducted for the 2008 Enterprise Search Report, for which we evaluated 18 leading enterprise search vendors vis-à-vis common search scenarios. We’d first point out that of all the vendors we evaluate, not one is well-suited for every search scenario, be it departmental search, Web site search or a multirepository, enterprisewide search. Different tools are appropriate (or not) for various scenarios, and we write about that at length on the Enterprise Search channel at cmswatch.com.

Introduction to MOSS search

Prior to the release of the Longhorn/Vista versions of the company’s operating system software, Microsoft had a veritable Tower of Babel of search systems. In our past research, we identified the separate and mutually unintelligible search systems and their indexes for Outlook, Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint Portal Server 2003, Office and the Windows 2000/XP Start button’s search command.

The situation was improved somewhat, especially with the release of MOSS 2007. But if you are a Microsoft-oriented shop looking for true enterprise search beyond what you keep in SharePoint, you will need to do some careful planning and thinking about search and retrieval to get the most out Microsoft’s new search systems. At the end of the day, you may still want to take a close look at what’s available from Coveo, dtSearch and other Microsoft-oriented search suppliers, or even some of the larger players that can plug into SharePoint.

Viewed from the customer’s perspective, Microsoft’s juggling of competing market needs ensures that you will have choices. There will be different ways to implement search. Think of it as a "let many flowers bloom" philosophy. You can use what’s provided in SharePoint, build or assemble a search system from the bits and pieces Microsoft provides, or snap in a third-party solution.

Microsoft’s enterprise search technology now has three main incarnations (part and parcel of the FAST acquisition): Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (WSS), Office SharePoint Server 2007 for Search, and Enterprise Search in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007).

Let’s look at how they differ.

  • WSS are SharePoint services that can be used as a software development kit (SDK); it has no capabilities for best bets, query reports, the Search Center presentation is missing, and it can index only local SharePoint content.
  • SharePoint Server for Search, somewhat counter-intuitively, is not the most capable version; it is perhaps the closest to a standalone search engine, comparable with many other products on the market, and can index a variety of external sources. It also features the Search Center as the interface for searchers.
  • MOSS 2007 is the most capable of the three, adding people search and business data; at the same time, you’ll get a complete collaboration, portal and Web content management solution in the same package, and it’s not something you’d want to implement for search only.









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