The headlines about Microsoft have been busy; Yahoo was going to be party of the 'softworld, then wasn’t. Lost in much of the 'softnews has been the Seattle-based giant’s purchase of Farecast.com, a small potatoes deal at $115 million but still big deal. Farecast –originally called Hamlet – is a typical .com start-up in that it was the brainchild of a single individual. But there the .commonality starts to end, because few scientists such as Oren Etzioni, the University of Washington computer guy who began Farecast, are playing with airlines. What Farecast does is to use data-mining to power an on-line travel search engine that predicts whether or not airfares would rise or fall on a specific route for a specific period.
But this isn’t an airline thing. Farecast was the object of several bidders, besides Microsoft; it is believed that Google was interested The price-predicting technology has applications far beyond airfares. Microsoft has already made it clear that it wants to move away from simply selling other people’s merchandise; it sold off Expedia in 1999.