Good consumers are often skeptical of free things.
Accordingly, this week's launch of the new IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition -- free, purportedly easy-to-use enterprise search software -- raised some eyebrows. Even IBM has admitted that it is doing "un-IBM-like" things, according to Philip Howard, research director with Towcester, U.K.-based Bloor Research, since free and easy-to-use are not usually the first adjectives that come to mind when it comes to Big Blue. But, there is no evident catch, Howard said, other than IBM's obvious desire that companies will upgrade to its business-class OmniFind search products after using the free version, shunning competitors Google and Microsoft in the process.
"If you look at how data is distributed in an enterprise and how it's linked together, it's very different from the public Web," Brown said. "As we've designed the technology and algorithms, we've taken into account those differences and tuned the Yahoo technology for enterprise use."
IBM's strategy -- and the Yahoo question
IBM believes all companies can benefit from the new tool, Brown said. OmniFind Yahoo Edition can be useful for small and midsized companies or departments within larger companies, he said. It can be used for internal enterprise searches or external Web site searches. And, not to worry, Brown said -- IBM plans to keep the tool free.
"This is not a short-term thing," Brown said. "We see that there's a lot of pent-up demand for basic enterprise search capabilities. Users have come to expect that basic search can be ubiquitous and free. It's time for the same thing to be true in the enterprise, so we're making it free and it will remain free."
However, IBM doesn't deny that its strategy is to drive upgrades and gain market share. The tool is a "natural entry point" to IBM's information access products, Brown said. While IBM is offering OmniFind Yahoo Edition paid phone support for $1,999 per server per year, the real goal is getting users to upgrade to products such as the IBM OmniFind Enterprise and Discovery editions and Information Server, Brown said. Users might want to upgrade in order to index more than 500,000 files, support more advanced security policies or access other data sources, since the free tool does not search content management systems or databases.
It will be interesting to see how well IBM's phone support sells and how many users actually upgrade, Howard said. It makes one wonder, though, if users do upgrade to an IBM enterprise product, where does that leave Yahoo?
Howard suspects that there may be more announcements coming from this IBM-Yahoo partnership -- perhaps extending the free tool to a paid version that indexes more files or some other product. The deal may be well-timed for Yahoo, he noted, which has made news with slumping stock prices, board-level changes and an onslaught of competition from Microsoft and Google.
Disrupting the search market
The release of IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition definitely ups the ante in the enterprise search market, noted Susan Feldman, research vice president with IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based analyst firm. Major vendors have made serious forays into the search market this year, including Oracle, Microsoft and Google. IBM's tool will compete with Google's enterprise search appliances, which start at around $2,000.
"OmniFind Yahoo Edition is positioned squarely against Google's search appliance," Feldman wrote in a recent note. "But we expect that it may rock the lower end of the search software market as well. Vendors like ZyLAB, Coveo, Vivisimo Ultraseek (from Autonomy), dtSearch, Isys or X1 will need to prove their worth against this new, free contender by emphasizing their own advanced enterprise features such as multilevel or document-level security, access to additional information sources, interface design, business intelligence or reporting features."