Microsoft has turned up the heat on its rivalry with Google with the purchase of a private Silicon Valley company that has developed one of the most promising Internet search tools of recent years. The acquisition of Powerset, reportedly for about $100 million, comes in the wake of Microsoft's failure to challenge Google either by acquiring Yahoo outright or buying its Internet search business, although the software company has said that the offer of a partial purchase remains open.
Powerset has become one of the most talked-of new search companies of recent years thanks to its ambitious plan to use so-called “natural language” technology to search the Web. Rather than keywords, which search engines such as Google use, natural language technology seeks to “understand” the meaning of a query and the content of webpages, potentially making it far more effective.
However, critics claim that the technology, which has been something of a Holy Grail for search companies, is still years ahead of its time, and even that it raises philosophical questions about the nature of language.