MSN Buys Desktop Search Startup

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-07-16 Print this article Print

Lookout's technology—a software add-on to Microsoft Outlook that indexes and searches e-mail as well as desktop files—will help Microsoft's Internet division expand its reach in search.

MSN continues to delve deeper into search with the acquisition of a 6-month-old startup focused on desktop search. Microsoft Corp.s Internet division announced late Thursday that it has bought Lookout Software LLC, the maker of a software add-on to Microsoft Outlook that indexes and searches e-mail as well as desktop files. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. While not directly addressing how they will use Lookouts technology, MSN officials said it is part of the companys increased investment in search and its efforts to make results—whether from the Web or from the desktop—more relevant for users.
"Our vision is to take search beyond todays basic Internet search services to deliver direct answers to peoples questions, and help them find information from a broad range of sources," Yusuf Mehdi, MSNs corporate vice president, said in a statement.
The acquisition marks another step in MSNs more aggressive push into the search market. The Redmond, Wash., division has been developing its own Web search index and algorithm for MSN Search, set to go live as early as the end of this year. Earlier this month, MSN offered a public preview of its Web search engine as part of an overhaul of MSN Search. It also plans to launch news and blog search sites later this year. The Lookout acquisition demonstrates that MSN is planning to further combine both Web search and desktop search, said Gary Stein, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research, a division of Jupitermedia Corp. He said he expects Lookouts functionality to be rolled into MSN Search and that the deal appears to be about gaining new technology and development talent. "This acquisition is not about shutting anyone out of the market," he said. Desktop search has become one of the next frontiers in search. Google Inc. has made moves toward the desktop with its Google Deskbar download, and Ask Jeeves Inc. last month acquired another desktop search startup. Microsoft also is widely expected to add more search features in Windows itself with the next operating-system release, Longhorn. Click here to read more about Ask Jeeves purchase of a desktop search startup. Lookout, based in Palo Alto, Calif., was founded in January 2004 by Mike Belshe and Eric Hahn, who both developed the software. Belshe will join MSN Search full time, while Hahn will join temporarily to help in the transition, Microsoft announced. Hahn, a former chief technology officer at Netscape Communications Inc., also is the founder and investing partner at early-stage investment firm The Inventures Group, in Palo Alto, Calif. "For us, this deal made total sense with where we were," Belshe said. "Its going to let us take Lookout to the whole next level … in how deep we can go in search." Lookout, in a free preview release, runs with Microsoft Outlook 2000 and higher and requires Microsofts .NET Framework version 1.1, according to the companys Web site. Along with e-mails and desktop files, it also can index public Outlook folders and Outlook calendar items and contacts. Check out eWEEK.coms Enterprise Applications Center at for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.

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Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.

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