Microsoft and Google both claimed to offer the best tools to locate documents on enterprise networks, in a debate at a technology conference yesterday.

To underscore that it was all in fun, Nitin Mangtani, lead product manager for Google's search appliance business, feigned throwing a punch at Jared Spataro, group product manager for Microsoft's enterprise search, as they shared a stage at the Gilbane Conference in San Francisco.

Like surfers searching the web, enterprises need search engines for finding important files, digital presentations, databases and other information on their own networks.

Microsoft's Spataro said Google may be the leader in the web search market, but that doesn't necessarily translate into success in the enterprise, where more sophisticated functionality is needed. He outlined three general markets for enterprise search including entry level commodity search functions, where Google is the leader. A middle market offers some additional features enterprises need, and also is scalable as a company grows. The third, high-end market delivers very sophisticated search techniques, such as those designed for e-discovery.

Spataro claims Microsoft is better positioned than is Google to serve those middle and high-end markets.

"We think we have a much more compelling solution for the enterprise space because we understand the IT professionals who buy it, we understand their needs and how to service these folks," he said.

But Google's expertise in consumer search extends into the enterprise markets, said Mangtani.

"We understand the needs of the high-end markets. There is some perception with a small segment of the market that we don't, but we have all the tools the market needs," said Mangtani.

It's not yet clear, however, whether Google can be as successful in enterprise search as it has been in consumer search, said Michael Maziarka, director of InfoTrends, a market research firm, because enterprises need search integrated into their other business process software.

"A document needs to be seen in context: who created it, when was it created it, what was the role of the person who created the document? For a business, that information is critical," he said.

Microsoft's Windows Live Search combines search of the enterprise network, the web and individual desktop computers.

Google offers Google Search Appliance and Google Mini. The Google Mini starts at as low as $2,000.

While praising the Google Mini for the simplicity of its design and interface, Maziarka says other enterprise software makers like Microsoft, SAP or Oracle may be closer to the enterprise buyer than Google.

"The issue is, how in tune are you to business processes? It's not clear how easily Google can do that," he said.