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Justsystem, Microsoft Announce Search Engine Alliance

Though fierce rivals in the word processing and office suite software markets, Justsystem, Japan's leading domestic PC software developer, and Microsoft have agreed to cooperate on the development and marketing of an enterprise-strength search engine/knowledge management tool.

The two companies will work together to develop a version of ConceptBase, Justsystem's natural-language document retrieval system, that is fully compatible with Microsoft's Exchange Server groupware.

The first fruit of the alliance will be ConceptBase Search for Exchange, which Justsystem expects to ship by year end.

Efforts will then turn to creating Exchange-capable versions of the ConceptBase Classifier and ConceptBase Summarizer add-on components as well as ensuring full compliance with Microsoft Outlook and the Windows 2000 Server operating system.

While Microsoft Index Server has full-text search capability, it lacks ConceptBase's extensive range of capabilities.

"Exchange has two weak points," admitted Microsoft Japan president Makoto Naruke. "One is its search functionality, and the other is its work flow functionality. Through this alliance, we will enhance Exchange's text search capabilities."

The ConceptBase search engine combines advanced natural-language processing with specialized statistical techniques to enable quick access and analysis of massive amounts of Internet- and intranet-based data, and can find relevant documents even if they do not contain the actual words used in the query.

It can automatically rank "hits" in order of relevance, classify documents based on content, and even analyze and summarize lengthy documents for quick comprehension.

Justsystem developed ConceptBase in collaboration with Pennsylvania-based Claritech, a firm in which it holds a majority interest, by integrating Claritech's high-performance CLARIT information retrieval technology with its own natural-language technology, Japanese input method, and automatic proofreading module.

Since December 1997, Justsystem has shipped some 50,000 ConceptBase client packages to users in about 250 firms.

Its ConceptBase 20/1000 software suite received the SOFTIC (Japan Software Information Center) 1998 "Software of the Year" award. Although Justsystem sells a wide range of business and personal computing applications, its flagship product has always been Ichitaro, Microsoft Word's perennial chief rival in the Japanese word processing market.

Justsystem's fiscal year 1998 sales, however, plunged by nearly 25 percent year-on-year, to 16.25 billion yen (US$148 million).

This translated into a 4.67 billion yen (US$42.5 million) net loss, only a slight improvement from the previous year's 5.25 billion yen (US$47.7 million) loss.

Justsystem is counting on ConceptBase to diversify its product lineup and rejuvenate its bottom line.

According to Kazunori Ukigawa, Justsystem founder, president, and CEO, "We expect our search software, ConceptBase, to be a new core technology."

Asked about his motive for cooperating with arch-rival Microsoft, Ukigawa replied that Justsystem "has had a lot of user requests for an Exchange-compatible version of ConceptBase."

Justsystem hopes the alliance will help to make ConceptBase the de facto standard information-retrieval tool for the enterprise market, while Microsoft sees it as an opportunity to transform Exchange from its current messsaging and collaboration focus into a comprehensive knowledge management infrastructure.

"Cooperation is very important for the long-run in the field of knowledge management," declared Microsoft's Naruke. "The technology of each company alone is not sufficient to enable us to work effectively in the age of the Internet."

Both Naruke and Ukigawa agreed that their companies might "consider further, long-term cooperation in the office product field" even though they have competing products.