In an interesting twist on its Sharepoint strategy, Microsoft has released its Faceted Search webparts (add-ons) under an open-source license. As Microsoft notes, Faceted Search is a "set of web parts that provide intuitive way to refine search results by category (facet)." Faceted Search is designed to overcome the limitations that traditional content categorization and search mechanisms (full-text search or category-by-category browsing) have provided:
A good solution to these problems involves exposing the facets in dynamic taxonomies so that the user can see all of the refinement options at any time. The user can easily switch between a search based approach vs. metadata browsing, using a familiar terminology while recognizing the organization and vocabulary of the data.
It's not clear how anyone could use this open-source code beyond Sharepoint, thereby limiting its utility, but I still think it's a step in the right direction for Microsoft.
Perhaps it will allow Sharepoint users to tweak their implementations of Faceted Search to better respond to their particular content. Perhaps it will also lead to others studying how Microsoft has developed this functionality and creating alternative, non-Sharepoint approaches to the same problem on other content platforms.
These are both Very Good Things.
Open sourcing Faceted Search does not, of course, prevent lock-in to the core of Sharepoint but it does make the periphery more valuable. That's a good strategy for Microsoft, even if it isn't an obviously good strategy for its customers. Still, I think this is a step in the right direction for the Sharepoint team.