Back in Office 2003, Microsoft introduced the concept of the "task pane." The task pane was a panel that appeared on the right side of the Office interface (at least for the "first class" Office products). The task pane represented a few different functions -- from showing the status of a document in SharePoint, to allowing you to manage permissions on a document. Included with these functions was something called the "Research" task pane.
The Research task pane allows you to search various information sources using basic keyword-type searches. For example, if you highlight a word in a document and right click, you see a function called "Look Up." When you select that option, the feature searches through the dictionary (for example) for the definition of the term you highlighted. You can see this function in figure 1-1.
Figure 1-1 The context menu allows you to lookup a term in Office 2007
When you execute this function, the Research task pane dutifully appears on your right. By default, the task pane appears to the right and displays the search result. In addition, it exposes a number of other sources that the search can be executed against (shown in figure 1-2).
Figure 1-2 The task pane and the content sources.
When I first saw this feature, I thought it was a way to extract additional dollars out of buyers of Office, since a good number of the research sources were premium sites that wouldn't allow you access to the content without a subscription. However, I then noticed a link at the bottom of the task pane labeled "Research Options." Clicking on this link allows you to control what sources are included in your task pane, as well as allowing you to add addition sources as shown in figure 1-3.
Figure 1-3 The Research Options dialog
As it turns out, it's easy to add your own sources, in addition to enabling ones already defined within Office. In fact, one of the best sources of "research" is SharePoint. SharePoint's own search web service is already setup to be included as a search source (MOSS, not WSS).
To add your SharePoint site as a search source, follow the instructions below:
- Click on Add Services button
- Type in the URL of the SharePoint search service. The default URL for the search web service is: http://[server_name]/_vti_bin/search.asmx. Simply replace [server_name] with the host of your SharePoint site.
- Click on OK and Office will validate the selection to determine whether there's a compatible search service.
- Once Office validates the search service, it will show you the name of the search service available to be included. The service name will be the name of the primary MOSS site where search is hosted.
- Simply click on Install and your MOSS search service will be added to your research source.
Once you've added your own internal search as a source, any lookup done within first class citizens of Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Access), can use that source to look up terms and return search results, just as any other source. When users click on a search result, Internet Explorer automatically opens, preserves the search results in pane on the left side of the interface and show the specific, chosen result in the main window (as shown in figure 1-4). Now, all users have to do is navigate the various results until they find the one they feel meets their requirement.
Figure 1-4 Search results preserved in IE
This feature is particularly valuable for organizations that need to connect employees with content throughout the enterprise. In addition, it adheres to a good rule of thumb about portals: don't make your employees leave the applications they're comfortable using -- surface the functionality in the applications where they do their work