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Microsoft deal steps up rivalry with Google

03 июля 2008

Microsoft turned up the heat on Tuesday in its technological rivalry with Google as it announced the purchase of a private Silicon Valley company that has developed one of the most promising, and controversial, new internet search tools of recent years.

The acquisition of Powerset, reportedly for about $100m, comes in the wake of Microsoft’s failure to challenge Google either by acquiring Yahoo outright or buying its internet search business, although the software company has said that the offer of a partial purchase remains open.

Ramez Naam, group programme manager of Live Search at Microsoft, said the Powerset deal had been under review for some time and was unrelated to the failure over Yahoo.

Powerset has become one of the most talked-of new search companies of recent years thanks to its ambitious plan to use so-called “natural language” technology to search the Web. Rather than keywords, which search engines such as Google use, natural language technology seeks to “understand” the meaning of a query and the content of Web pages, potentially making it far more effective.

However, critics claim that the technology, which has been something of a Holy Grail for search companies, is still years ahead of its time, and even that it raises philosophical questions about the nature of language.

Barney Pell, chief technology officer of Powerset, on Tuesday rejected those charges, and claimed that the goal of a full natural-language powered search of the entire Web was “absolutely within reach”. Powerset itself, which has based its service on technology licensed from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, recently launched a narrow working test of its service to index the content of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

Powerset, which had raised $12.5m in venture capital backing, explored the idea of raising the “tens of millions” of dollars more it would have needed to build the technology itself, before deciding instead to sell to Microsoft, Mr Pell said.

The companies refused to comment on the purchase price, although VentureBeat and other online news services reported that Microsoft had paid about $100m.


Источник: Financial Times

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