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Thursday, May 18, 2006 - Page updated at 10:47 AM

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Microsoft wants to make searches a snap

Seattle Times business reporter

CEOs don't always excel at using their computers to find data, so perhaps it's appropriate that Microsoft introduced new tools for information searches at its annual gathering of more than 100 top leaders from global corporations.

The company wants to make searching for information from virtually any electronic source, and sharing it, easy for all "information workers" — even CEOs.

Executives detailed Wednesday new applications that will allow workers to easily search for information on their computer desktops, on the Internet, on shared company networks and even in the heads of their colleagues.

The tools will work with the company's new collaboration software, Office SharePoint 2007, due out in the fall.

Kevin Johnson, co-president of Microsoft's services and platforms division, said it's part of the company's effort to help businesses improve productivity by making search more efficient.

"People spend a lot of time working to find information," Johnson said, citing one report that suggests information workers devote as much as 30 percent of their time to the task. That results in less time spent "turning that information into action," he said.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates trotted out the new features — and expounded on the problems they address — before one of the highest-profile gatherings the company hosts each year, the CEO Summit of executives representing technology, finance and other industries.

Gates described the challenge of bridging "the last mile of productivity" — a term he said he came up with in the past few days — as an impediment to companies seeking to benefit from the huge investments they've made in information technology.

For some companies, "getting information into systems feels like that's the whole thing, you just get it to be digital and the magic will happen," he said. "But unless the very user interface, the standard way that people navigate the information, is very obvious to them and very well accepted into their work practice, you don't get the benefit."

The new tools announced Wednesday are designed to help workers get that information out quickly in a way that can be shared.

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One product, Windows Live Search, will let workers use a single action to find information in their e-mail, in documents stored on their computers, in databases maintained by their companies — including those provided by companies such as SAP and Siebel — and the Internet.

The results will come back to an interface that allows the worker to preview each information source and easily share it with colleagues.

Another product, Knowledge Network, automatically creates profiles of workers, listing their expertise related to the company's business and customers.

Workers can then search for experts at their own company. Another feature essentially brokers an introduction to the expert by listing co-workers that the searcher and the expert may know in common.

Benjamin J. Romano: bromano@seattletimes.com

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