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Originally published Monday, August 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Outdoing Outlook

Suri Raman was such a gifted software developer at Microsoft that co-workers would regularly line up outside his office to get code-writing...

Seattle Times technology reporter

Suri Raman was such a gifted software developer at Microsoft that co-workers would regularly line up outside his office to get code-writing advice.

He was a rising star at the company and was one of the lead creators of the Outlook e-mail program. In 2000, Microsoft showed its gratitude by naming him a "distinguished engineer," a rarefied ranking that brought executive-level status and pay.

Raman left the company in 2002 to spend time, he said, with his newborn son. But for the last two years, he has been holed up in a Bellevue office, working on a project so secret that only a handful of trusted allies knew about it.

He's finally ready to unveil his work and his company, called Trimergent. Its first product, he said, could change the way office workers communicate as much as Outlook did.

"In terms of potential, I think this is bigger than anything I've worked on so far," he said. "And I've worked on some seriously huge stuff."

Trimergent is tackling ways that office workers can search for information, publish findings online and share them with others. Its product combines multiple tiers of search — including Web, desktop and database search — with collaboration and sharing features.

The company: Trimergent


Launched: Unofficially, in mid-2003 at Bellevue's Rock Bottom Brewery. Officially, in January 2004, when the company moved into offices nearby.

Powered by: Three founders: Matt Hillman, a former Microsoft developer who founded technology startup Wonderhorse; Suri Raman, a former Microsoft developer; and Ashwani Sirohi, a former Wonderhorse executive who also worked at Microsoft and Accenture. Raman is chief executive.

Employees: Six.

Customers: None yet. The plan is to test the products by the end of the year.

Catchphrase: Revolutionizing enterprise information exchange.

Source: Trimergent

Kim Peterson

It's an area that no search company — even the market leaders — has been able to conquer.

Trimergent's founders also include Matt Hillman, an engineer who also helped lead the Outlook team, and Ashwani Sirohi, a startup veteran who also worked for Microsoft.

Brainstorming

Trimergent first began to take shape in 2003 when Hillman and Sirohi started meeting Friday afternoons to kick around ideas at Bellevue's Rock Bottom Brewery.

At their regular table at Rock Bottom, Hillman and Sirohi talked a lot about search and collaboration. They analyzed what Google and other competitors were doing with desktop search — the process of searching the contents of a computer's hard drive.

The discussions changed when Raman joined and brought forthright opinions on what he would and would not do. No gizmos or add-ons to other programs. Nothing that had been done before. He wanted to shoot for the moon with a brand-new concept.

The team went to work, leasing office space in Bellevue and hiring three employees.

Raman was a prolific coder at Microsoft, co-workers say, who became the go-to guy for tough software problems.

"He was pretty much the primary architect for Outlook," said Mike Koss, who was the development manager for the Outlook team. "I would be willing to throw any problem at Raman in terms of having him design it."

Netdocs leader

After Outlook, Raman was one of the leaders of Netdocs, a huge e-mail and information-management project championed by Chairman Bill Gates. The Netdocs team grew to hundreds of people before the project was canceled. Parts of Netdocs eventually emerged in Infopath, a separate information-management program.

It was understandable that Raman would want to take a break from Microsoft after the Netdocs debacle, former co-workers said.

Raman was a coding guru at Microsoft, where so many people sought his advice that he joked about setting up a take-a-number system.

"I don't know anybody who is as passionate about what he is doing," said Jean Paoli, a senior director of XML architecture at Microsoft who worked with Raman on Infopath. "I always remember seeing the fun in his eyes. We knew that we would solve very complicated problems."

Raman, Hillman and Sirohi have self-funded the startup and aren't seeking outside investors. They are tightly controlling development and operations, with Raman acting as the architect, Hillman as the engineer and Sirohi as the business-development strategist.

Rollout next month

They plan to officially announce the company next month in Huntington Beach, Calif., at the influential Demo conference, an annual gathering of technology investors and innovators.

Other products that have launched at Demo conferences include the TiVo personal digital recorder and the Palm Pilot.

Trimergent's product, called Personal Information Networks, opens as a clean white Web site with a simple search box — a look championed by Google and, later, its search rivals.

Users can simultaneously search the Web, computer files and corporate databases, and then choose which results to save. They can build on those results with new searches and share the collection of information with others.

The idea attacks a common problem in the office: How can employees quickly get and share information from multiple sources ?

"It's really hard to do this, to do it well," said Susan Feldman, an analyst with IDC. "All of the major search vendors were probably among the first to understand the problem but didn't have the market clout to push the understanding. It's only just happening. You'll see a lot of different takes on it."

Trimergent isn't alone in tackling this area. Microsoft is targeting information sharing and collaboration in the office with its SharePoint Portal Server, IBM has its WebSphere Information Integration product and Google is shoring up its corporate searching products.

The Trimergent team has filed for seven patents covering its technology, Sirohi said. Hillman said he senses an urgency in the market.

"It's a space where everyone knows this is a huge problem," he said. "Our biggest risk is a competitive risk."

By the end of 2005, Trimergent plans to test its software with a few potential customers. The business plan is to make the software available for free but charge customers for the servers powering the system.

"We will change the face of how information is exchanged in the enterprise," Sirohi said.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com

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