Microsoft announced a version of its desktop-search software geared toward enterprise users. The offering is specifically tailored to users who need to search through data that resides on multiple computers across a company's network.
Other players, such as Google, already have a firm hold on the enterprise-search market with appliances that can scan intranets, e-mail, and other data stores on business networks.
Microsoft did not offer extensive details about the level of access users will have to specific enterprise applications with the new search tool, but the company did say that with the extended enterprise capability, users will be able to search all areas of the enterprise where they have authorized access.
The free search tool will be the first in a line of similar products from Microsoft as the company seeks to give both corporate and consumer users more sophisticated software to mine data.
Next in line for Microsoft's search offerings will be more functionality in the next version of Windows, called Vista.
Consumer desktop search might also get revamped, especially in Microsoft's new Windows Live online products, although those additions will probably not be seen until later next year.
These new offerings will put Microsoft in direct competition with Google and Yahoo, both of which Redmond is already challenging with the Windows Live offering.
Microsoft's focus on desktop search comes after some customer grumbling about the difficulty of finding relevant documents using the company's existing search functions.
Microsoft's strong interest in the enterprise search space is not surprising to many analysts, given the pace of developments in this sector over the past year.
"There have been a number of feature enhancements and partnerships, and there should be even more activity in this space in the near future," said Yankee Group analyst Patrick Mahoney.
Just one example is IBM's announcement in October that it would be developing a plug-in for Google's enterprise search appliance.
"All the big players are in this now," said Mahoney. "So it should make the market interesting. But, ultimately, it will also benefit enterprise users."