TechEd, End of Day 4: The Most Interesting New Thing I Saw All Day

The last four days here in Orlando have been a blur, and that’s not because of the humidity or the evening events.  There’s a lot going on here.  There are a lot of people here.  There’s a lot of content here.  And there are a lot of good SharePoint Products and Technology partners here.

I’ve been doing my part by presenting two sessions (one on site deployment, one on site definition development) with my friend/colleague Ted Pattison, plus hanging out for many an hour in the Portal Track’s Cabana (a sort of perpetual Ask-The-Experts area, but without the beach or the drinks with little umbrellas).  The questions have run the gamut, but there were two particularly repeating themes:  (1) will the next release have ______?, and (2) I’m not happy with SPS Search because ______.

I’ve already mentioned that we won’t be talking about the next releases of our tech until the PDC, but let’s drill in to item (2), for two reasons:  an explanation of how SPS Search is configured to behave, and a big plug for some great partner technology called Ontolica from Navigo Systems.

Behind the scenes, SPS search engine is actually really, really powerful.  You can issue SQL queries to it that shape the results you get in any of a number of ways.  Our UI, on the other hand, defaults to wrapping your search string in a FREETEXT() function. FREETEXT, essentially, automatically stems all of the words (so “test” includes “tester” but not “testament”) and puts an OR between them.  That means that you’re going to get more hits if you add words to your search, not fewere.  We rely on our relevance ranking algorithm to ensure that the best results appear first.  Generally, they do.  But this can drive people used to the boolean search approach nuts.

You can modify our search UI to use CONTAINS() (which issues your query as a standard boolean search) instead of FREETEXT().  You can actually do a lot of things to extend/enhance our UI.  I’ve done presentations on the subject.  Patrick Tisseghem wrote a whitepaper on the subject for MSDN on the subject.  But what if you don’t want to get involved in writing code?

Enter Navigo Systems.  Their Web site is if you can read Danish, or if you can read English.  They’ve created a shrink-wrapped add-on for SPS and WSS that rips out our default search UI and replaces it with something much, much nicer, much more powerful, and much more flexible.  If you were thinking about replacing or supplmenting our native search technology with someone else’s, I’d encourage you to look at this first.  Their enhanced UI will show you just how powerful SPS’ search engine really is.

It’s the coolest new thing I saw at TechEd for the first three days.  There were many cool things, but this spoke directly to one of the attendees’ most pertinent needs.  I saw other cool things yesterday, and I’ll blog about them, and anything else I see today, over the weekend.

By the way, if I mention a partner or a product/service, please take it to mean that “I like him/her/them/it”, not that I don’t like anyone/anything else.  I’m happy to look at and comment on other offerings from other places as well.

Actually, along those lines, totally unrelated to anything having to do with SharePoint Products and Technologies, I just have to recommend a good restaurant here in Orlando:  Hue.  Great, creative food, great service, great atmosphere, and they’re open late.  It’s downtown, away from the convention center and the theme parks, and worth the diversion.