Microsoft is finalizing Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express, a free product for searching files on network servers. It has the potential to fill a need for many small businesses, especially law firms drowning in documents.

Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express was released today in nearly final form, to be followed by the official release early next year. It is available for free but it requires a dedicated server running Windows Server 2003; businesses running Small Business Server will apparently need a second server to run the search software.

The search software apparently indexes files on other network servers plus Sharepoint databases, online resources, and more. A search page is presented in Internet Explorer and search results appear in the same format as search results from Google or Windows Live Search. The screen shots don’t show a preview pane, just a list of search results listed by title with a portion of a single line from the document, which is far less useful than the search results from Windows Desktop Search or the search tools in Vista.

Although those search products for Windows XP and Vista have helped, there continues to be a need for a good search tool for small businesses. Windows Desktop Search and Windows Vista can be set to index network shares but each computer has to be configured individually and each computer crawls the files individually to create its own index. That leads to increased network traffic and increases the possibility of error. Appliances from Google and other software choices for enterprise searches are expensive or difficult to maintain for a small business without full-time IT support.

Even small businesses are drowning in files, tens of thousands of historical documents and spreadsheets that are increasingly difficult to manage. A second server may be a small price to pay if it makes that information accessible again.

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