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In its effort to snatch back the baton clumsily handed to Google, Microsoft Tuesday staked a fresh claim to enterprise-wide search. But IBM could be the bigger threat.

Microsoft said its existing Windows Desktop Search would now serve as a "starting point" to search across a "range of data silos". Users can scan email, desktops or shared network drives on machines running Windows 2000 or XP and Office.

The integrated search is provided through the addition of a beta feature to the consumer-centric MSN Search Toolbar launched in May, which IT departments are expected to download to corporate machines.

The beta feature enables users to consolidate search results inside their Office Outlook clients. According to Microsoft, the toolbar enables users to switch between desktop, web or intranet searches.

Developers can further extend Windows Desktop Search to index additional information and file types, using IFilters and protocol handlers available from Microsoft's Developer Network (MSDN), while add-ins to the MSN Search Toolbar are available here.

A Microsoft spokesperson told The Register customers had asked Microsoft to "extend [its] success" in desktop search for corporate environments to improve timely access to information.

Tuesday's launch, announced at Microsoft's IT Forum 2005 in Barcelona, Spain, comes as Microsoft tries to contain the search, advertising and online community beast that is Google.

In recent weeks, Microsoft has launched a "live software" strategy pitching Windows services paid-for by a Google-style advertising business model. Search has also been chafing Microsoft's butt, as it increasingly serves as the foundation for other activities at Google.

However, it is a complex task to unify desktop, enterprise and internet search as they rely on different approaches to ranking and context. And, while much of the focus among the press and Microsoft is on Google, it is IBM which has been steadily pushing an enterprise search strategy through its information management business.

IBM this summer open sourced its Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA) used in the company's WebSphere Information Integrator OmniFind Edition, WebSphere Portal Server and Lotus Workplace. IBM also open sourced the UIMA toolkit, with a view to creating an industry standard for large-scale searching across different information silos.

Sixteen companies promptly annouced support for UIMA, including Attensity, ClearForest, Cognos, Endeca, Factiva, Inxight and SAS. The companies plan to use UIMA as a standard framework for search and text analysis of unstructured information, which inevitably means support for IBM's WebSphere and information manager family of products, and suport for IBM's Workplace.

Workplace combines IBM's portal, collaboration and web content management softare to delivere a cross-platform, cross-device alternative to Windows on clients for information workers.

IBM, meanwhile, joined forces with Google in May to deliver Google Desktop Search for Enterprise, a free tool enabling millions of Lotus Notes users to search Notes email, instant messaging and non-Lotus files. Google Desktop Search is also integrated with Google's search appliances for intranet and web searches.®

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