Through the SharePoint product team's MSDN blog, Microsoft announced that it had released a significant infrastructure update for SharePoint (and related technologies like Project Server that leverages SharePoint components). The update seems to primarily address three areas:
Search functionality and search-related performance (like index performance).
Content Deployment bug fixes (which hopefully will correct a series of irritating bugs related to deploying content from one SharePoint environment to another in web content management scenarios). These are include the hotfix packs Microsoft released for content deployment back in May of this year.
General interface and performance improvements. In reading the three or four pages in Microsoft's site that aimed to describe what was actually included, it was difficult to pinpoint what these "improvements" actual mean to SharePoint administrators. However, Microsoft describes them as "...fixes and product performance updates driven by customer feedback which have resulted in significant platform performance improvements..." Again, I was unable to nail what precisely has changed or how significant the improvements were.
What's interesting, at least with regard to search, is that it seems the "ancillary" search products like Search Server 2008 (and it's "free" sibling Search Server Express 2008) are driving updates to SharePoint's search technology. As mentioned in the SharePoint Report 2008, Microsoft has invested heavily in improving SharePoint search. In fact, historically, it seemed as if SharePoint Search was the the parent of these independent search tools, but it now appears as if "the student [has become] the master" as Darth Vader said to Obi Wan.
In particular, SharePoint is getting Search Server's federated search capabilities and "a unified search dashboard." From what I saw at the last SharePoint conference, both of these search products borrowed very heavily from the SharePoint interface construct, but improved the visibility of certain configuration settings. In particular, I liked the ease with which you could configure the federated search.
However, these changes call into question how this will all play out within the Shared Services provider and whether administrators who are struggling to figure out where to go to change search settings -- at the site, site collection, Central Administration (in the Application or Operation tab) or in Shared Services. While most key search settings reside in Shared Services, SharePoint has search-relate configuration in spread over virtually every administrative interface. My hope is that this "unified search dashboard" brings some order to search within SharePoint.
In the end, these changes (along with the FAST search integration) also add more evidence to the theory that Microsoft is going to decouple search from SharePoint entirely (and potentially the Office team) -- making SharePoint a client technology. As I blogged about in a post on the completion of the FAST acquisition, Microsoft seems to be leaning very heavily towards and independent search product team. And just to add fuel to the conspiratorial fire, this type of organizational structure might make sense if, say, Microsoft were to acquire a large Internet-centric search company (although it begs the question what they'd do with all of this overlapping technology).