Six and a half years ago, Bill Gates converted one more .NET developer to SharePoint with an emotional address to the 1,000 attendees of the Office Developer Conference. I was impressed by the legendary developer’s passion about the new version of SharePoint he was announcing, and the billion-dollar R&D investment Microsoft had made in it. From a hundred feet away, I could see the confidence in the bet on Gates’ face. The bet paid off in what became Microsoft’s fastest-growing software product release.

At the time of that conference, I was a .NET developer. I had written SharePoint Web Parts but I had not embraced the platform. When Gates announced SharePoint 2007 was gaining Microsoft Content Management Server’s Web content management capability, I finally saw that I would become a SharePoint developer.

Similarly, Microsoft’s next version of SharePoint will incorporate the features of a formerly separate software product, FAST Search. On July 16, Microsoft released the Customer Preview of SharePoint 2013, which incorporates FAST’s enterprise search capabilities in the core product. As I was converted by the Web content capabilities, others will be converted by enterprise search.

Search is a powerful tool. If you have any doubt, consider Google. One of the world’s largest companies was built in a very short time on a foundation of the best Internet search platform. Google made search better and it paid off for them big time.

Now, Microsoft is betting that having the best enterprise search platform will have a huge, positive impact on its SharePoint business. Even back in the 2006 timeframe, it was clear that search was an important part of SharePoint. Each successive version of SharePoint has gotten better search capabilities and this may be the biggest improvement yet. SharePoint Server 2013 search has more capability, more scale and more potential to effect change than search in any previous version of the product.

If SharePoint 2013 search becomes the best enterprise search platform, the payoff for Microsoft might be another record-breaking software release.

Tom Resig is a Microsoft Certified Master and a consultant with SharePoint911, a division of Rackspace.