Microsoft agrees to buy Norway's Fast for $1.2b

Microsoft agreed to buy a Norwegian search company for $1.2 billion, aiming to shore up its search technology for businesses against competition from Oracle and IBM, an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report said Microsoft's cash offer of 19 kroner ($2.97) per share for Fast Search & Transfer ASA represented a 42% premium over the stock's January 4 closing price.

Fast, a 10-year-old company based in Oslo, is one of the biggest enterprise search players. Its technology, like those of competitors Autonomy and Endeca Technologies, helps workers inside a business locate data kept in a tangle of different types of files and databases.

It could, for example, find benefits information posted on a company intranet, an annual report from five years ago buried in a folder on a file server, the name of a colleague with a certain expertise or figures from software that tracks customer relationships.

In 2007, Fast's share price sank after accounting problems and a restructuring that took a big bite out of earnings. In the third quarter, Fast posted a loss of more than $100 million.

The Associated Press report quoted Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business software division, as saying that Microsoft was fully aware of the accounting issue and that its depressed stock price did not factor into the decision to buy.