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Microsoft aims to widen searches

Microsoft will soon release technology that will let users search through e-mails, personal computers and even big databases to find the information they want, top executive says.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Microsoft Corp. is developing technology that takes search functions beyond the Internet, allowing users to pore through e-mails, personal computers and even big databases to find information, a top executive said Wednesday.

The system “will, as far as the consumer is concerned, be an end-to-end system for searching across any data type,” Yusuf Mehdi, head of Microsoft’s MSN division, told analysts at a Goldman Sachs Internet conference. His speech from Las Vegas was broadcast over the Internet.

(MSNBC content is distributed by MSN. MSNBC itself is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

The new technology would be a huge advantage for users grappling with an increasing amount of digital information, offering a one-step system instead of having to use several different search engines, file management systems or other tools.

Microsoft's Windows operating system, which is on 90 percent of personal computers, provides tools for file management on PCs. But Mehdi conceded there really isn't a quick system for searching.

"I think it's fair to say that we will tackle all of the things that you expect, including PC search, as part of the MSN effort," Mehdi said.

He said Microsoft plans to release an early version of the technology soon, as part of the software giant's push to compete with Internet search leader Google Inc. A final version is expected in the next 12 months, he said.

He added that the new technology would be available long before the next version of Windows, which isn't expected until 2006. Microsoft has previously said that improving PC search will be a key component of that system, code-named Longhorn.

Joe Wilcox, an analyst with Jupiter Research, said the end-to-end search technology illustrates how concerned Microsoft is with besting rivals including Google, the current Internet search favorite. He expects Google to also release technology soon for searching the desktop.

The concern is that Google and others will increasingly encroach on Microsoft's control over desktop computing.

"Microsoft is scrambling to protect its turf," Wilcox said, noting that rival Apple Computer Inc. also has a more advanced system for searching both the Internet and Apple computers.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has previously conceded that one of the Redmond, Wash., company's big missteps was that it didn't originally invest in building its own Internet search technology, relying instead on an outside company to provide MSN search results.

But as Google, Yahoo! and other Internet search options have exploded in popularity, Microsoft has turned massive resources toward building its own technology. The effort extends across many of Microsoft's business units, but the most high-profile moves are in its MSN division.