It's not often that the business section of the Washington Post (my local newspaper) provides an interesting topic for my opinion column. However, recent articles about Google's ventures into business-centric search avenues have gotten me asking a lot of "what if" questions. In one of the snippets that got me thinking, the Washington Post announced, "Google introduced software that lets business users scour for information in programs including Oracle, Cisco Systems, and Salesforce.com." Cognos was also included in the list of companies participating in the partnership.

Hmm. That sounds like a database front end in some ways.

Here's another snippet: "During the most recent financial quarter, Google spread its Web empire to include an online video store, a financial news Web site, various programs for Google Mobile and a site that delivers a collection of free software from other companies. It introduced Google Calendar just last week, and it recently purchased a word-processing software company and upgraded its email and chat software."

Hmm. That sounds like a growing collection of the pieces that an end user might expect to see as the core of their desktop experience.

I did a bit more reading and came across an article in Red Herring, "Google Boosts Business Search" (http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=16549&hed=Google+Boosts+Business+Search+&sector=Industries&subsector=Computing), which describes how the newly announced Google OneBox for Enterprise appliance will help customers perform secure searches on all of their company data by using the standard Google interface. The article quotes Paul Hulford, senior product marketing manager at Cognos, who touts the benefits of letting users get their data by performing a simple Google-style search instead of using business-intelligence, sales-force automation, and inventory-management applications. The article goes on to quote Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager of Google's enterprise business, who emphasizes how much money companies spend on such applications. "Search really has the potential to become the unifying element to any application," says Girouard.

Google plans to sell the OneBox for Enterprise appliance to customers for a fixed license cost and will open up the product's development interfaces to let developers, systems integrators, and software vendors create their own modules.

Wow. That sounds like a pretty slick environment for front-ending a wide array of applications. Microsoft has made great strides in SQL Server 2005 Full Text Search, but Google it ain't.

I know that Google has amassed a huge lead in the search space, ahead of Microsoft and Yahoo, its primary competitors. And I remember people saying (as they still do) "The browser is an application and will replace the desktop as we know it." I also remember Oracle trying to convince people a few years back that the database was the correct place to run everything, including your email. But what if everyone was wrong and search is really where it's at?

Sure, I know there will always be applications that will never lend themselves to a search paradigm. But a vast number of corporate systems boil down to being nothing more than a way to find, present, and visualize data stored somewhere in the enterprise. I wouldn't be surprised if initial versions of OneBox For Enterprise will be more fluff than meat. But OneBox is certainly an intriguing idea that could have profound implications for corporations if Google can make it work and get broad-spectrum buy-in from major ISVs, integrators, and the independent software development community.