Microsoft has offered to buy enterprise search software company Fast Search And Transfer for 6.6 billion Norwegian kroner ($1.2 billion), it has announced.

The acquisition will bring Microsoft powerful high-end search technologies to complement its enterprise infrastructure offering, the company said.

Microsoft's recent efforts in the enterprise search market have been aimed at the other end of the market. In November 2007, it introduced two new low-end enterprise search products, Search Server 2008 and Search Server Express 2008, both based on its SharePoint Server 2007 business productivity platform. It is pitching Search Server 2008 as a cheap entry into enterprise search, while the Express version is free for single installations.

By integrating Fast Search's products with SharePoint, and drawing on its worldwide network of partners, Microsoft hopes to bring Fast Search's products to a wider audience, it said on Tuesday.

The software giant is also counting on the Fast Search research team in Norway to bolster its R&D efforts in Europe. Microsoft has laboratories in Cambridge, England, and in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The directors of Fast Search, based in Oslo, have recommended that shareholders accept the offer, which represents a premium of 42 per cent over the Fast Search share price at close of business on Friday. The companies expect the deal to close in the second quarter, subject to customary closing conditions, including the approval of the holders of at least 90 percent of Fast Search shares.

Fast Search rivals in the market for specialised enterprise search tools include Google, with its Search Appliance, French search company Exalead, and the UK's Autonomy, which recently acquired Meridio and Zantaz.

Representatives of Fast Search could not immediately be reached for comment.