Today, Microsoft released the enterprise-oriented version of its Windows Desktop Search (WDS) product, enabling managed corporations with an end-user search solution that covers the Web, local hard disks, and intranets. Microsoft first promised an enterprise version of WDS when it released the consumer-oriented version, called MSN Search Toolbar with Windows Desktop Search, back in May.
Desktop search is a holy grail of sorts for information workers. Various studies suggest that users waste huge sums of time each day simply trying to find relevant documents on their hard disks or company intranet. A tool such as WDS for the enterprise can go a long way toward fulfilling this need, and if this new version is as good as the MSN-branded consumer version the company shipped in May it could be a winner. (See my review on the SuperSite for Windows at the URL below.)
During a briefing with Heather Friedland, the product planner for WDS at Microsoft, I was told that the software giant made several changes to its WDS product to make it more applicable to enterprises. First, Microsoft has split the MSN Toolbar product--which provides search toolbars for Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), Windows Explorer, and Microsoft Office Outlook--from the WDS tool, which ads an integrated search deskbar to the Windows taskbar. This separation means you can separately deploy any of the toolbars, the deskbar, or all to your users.
Unlike the unmanaged consumer WDS version, the enterprise version is designed to work with automated deployment tools such as Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), Active Directory (AD), or Group Policy, or via any third-party deployment product. That means it supports a wide range of configuration options, allowing administrators to specify which features are available, which document types can be searched, and so on.
The product has several new capabilities as well. The Outlook toolbar is better integrated into the Outlook client, providing search results directly in the application--not in a separate window as with the consumer version. The scope of user searches is now configurable by administrators, letting you not only specify one or more custom intranet search strings but also a name of the WDS deskbar that identifies that location. For example, in the consumer version, the deskbar lets you search locally or on the Web; with the enterprise version, users will see a third choice--named as you see fit instead of a generic label such as "intranet" or "local network." Finally, because WDS is easily extensible via a simple API documented on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), corporations can easily add search support for custom document types that they use inhouse. And a wide range of free and low-cost add-ons for WDS is already available on addins.msn.com.
One of the best features of WDS for the enterprise is the licensing cost: It comes free with each Windows 2000 or Windows XP license you've already purchased. You can deploy WDS for the enterprise to any 32-bit Win2K Service Pack 3 (SP3) or later system or Windows XP desktop, and Friedland told me an x64 version was in the works. For the free download and more information, visit the Microsoft Web site:
WDS – enabled for the enterprise
MSN Search Toolbar with WDS Review
Finally, Microsoft Tackles High Performance Computing
Back in May, I spoke with Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia, who oversees the Windows Server Division at the company. We spoke about several topics (see the URL below), but the one that interested me most involved those markets in which Windows Server 2003 wasn't effectively competing. There were only few of those markets, as you might imagine, but Muglia did highlight UNIX application migration and high-performance computing as two areas in which Linux, in particular, was outshining Microsoft at the time.
"One workload I think we've historically done poorest in is high-performance computing," Muglia told me. "But that's an area where we're making some ongoing investments too." Indeed. In September, Microsoft released the first beta of a product, Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, which addresses this very market. And today, at IT Forum in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft announced the Beta 2 version. Microsoft expects to ship the final version in the first half of 2006.
The mantra with Compute Cluster Server is simple: "High-performance computing goes mainstream." If you think about the largely academic world of supercomputing today, you'll agree that it's one of the last vestiges of white lab-coated world that used to dominate all of computing. High-performance computing is expensive, complicated, and difficult to manage. Microsoft, a company dedicated to low-cost, easy-to-use, and simple-to-deploy-and-manage enterprise systems, clearly saw a market opportunity ripe for the taking.
The company might have made its move at the right time. With the cost per gigaflop at an all time low thanks to low-cost but high-performing commodity hardware, it's now possible to create clusters of PC-based servers on the cheap. To facilitate its end of the bargain, Microsoft designed Compute Cluster Edition to be familiar to Windows administrators, easy to deploy, and integrated with Active Directory (AD). And most of these systems will be sold in the sub-$50,000 market, which will open supercomputing up to entirely new (and larger) markets. As Microsoft puts it, now scientists, researchers, and engineers can focus on what they do and not waste their time being IT administrators as well.
I can't pretend to completely understand the research, engineering, and educational markets that have typically been served by supercomputing solutions, but Microsoft has already demonstrated that Compute Cluster Edition runs the same custom applications that these customers have come to expect. These applications are aimed at verticals such as manufacturing, automobile, aerospace, life sciences, and oil and gas, as well as industrial and academic markets.
Microsoft hasn't announced pricing and licensing and won't until next year, but the company told me it will be competitively priced with existing Linux solutions. Because the performance will be comparable with Linux systems as well, Microsoft expects deployment and management advantages, as well as its strong relationships with OEMs and ISVs, to give it a boost over the Linux competition.
Bob Muglia delivers the Windows Server roadmap