Post-Gates era starts with assault on Google

Barely had the door closed on Bill Gates' last day at Microsoft HQ when the company announced it had bought Powerset, a privately owned outfit that is reputed to have developed an innovative suite of search tools. Clearly Microsoft has not given up its assault on Google's dominance of internet search.

Microsoft insists the acquisition process had been underway for some considerable time, irrespective of the Yahoo negotiations.

Powerset approach has given rise to much publicity because it uses "natural language" to search the web instead of keywords like Google. Powerset's technology seeks to understand the meaning and context of the query and the web pages it searches to produce far more accurate results.

Let's hope so: I searched for a Juliet Balcony yesterday on eBay and clicked the "˜search similar items' link, only to be taken to a page full of balcony bras, which would not prevent people falling out of an upper floor window.

However, language and its use is endlessly subtle, so meaning is often hard to grasp. Powerset's critics have argued that the company is years away from a commercially viable version.

That will be no surprise to Microsoft, which is in this for the long haul: no less an authority than Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who is generally credited with inventing the web, has said that web 3.0 will be driven by semantics. But right now, we are very much in the realm of web 2.0.