Is there any real competition when it comes to enterprise search? Articles like this one in ComputerWorld make good points but also foster the idea that this could be a differentiator for buyers: Yahoo deal puts IBM, Microsoft in enterprise search pickle, by Juan Carlos Perez, August 4, 2009.

I wrote about the IBM launch of the OmniFind suite of search products a couple of years ago with positive comments. The reality ended up being quite different as I noted later. Among the negatives were three that stand out in my mind. First, free (as in the IBM OmniFind Yahoo no-charge edition) is rarely attractive to serious enterprises looking for a well-supported product. Second, the substantial computing overhead for the free product was significant enough that some SMBs I know of were turned off; the costs associated with the hardware and support it would require offset “free.” Third, my understanding that the search architecture for the free product would provide seamless upgrades to IBM’s other OmniFind products was wrong. Each subsequent product adoption would require the same “rip and replace” that Steve Arnold describes in his report, Beyond Search. It is hard to believe that IBM got much traction out of this offering from the enterprise search market at large. Does anyone know if there was really any head-to-head competition between IBM and other search vendors over this product?

On the other hand, does the Microsoft Express Search offering appeal to enterprises other than the traditional Microsoft shop? If Microsoft Express Search went away, it would probably be replaced by some other Microsoft search variation with inconvenience to the customer who needs to rip and replace and left on his own to grumble and gripe. What else is new? The same thing would happen with IBM Yahoo OmniFind users and they would adapt.

I’ve noticed that free and cheap products may become heavily entrenched in the marketplace but not among organizations likely to upgrade any time soon. Once enterprises get immersed in a complex implementation (and search done well does require that) they won’t budge for a long, long time, even if the solution is less than optimal. By the time they are compelled to upgrade they are usually so wedded to their vendor that they will accept any reasonable offer to upgrade that the vendor offers. Seeking competitive options is really difficult for most enterprises to pursue without an overwhelmingly compelling reason.

This additional news item indicates that Microsoft is still trying to get their search strategy straightened out with another new acquisition, Applied Discovery Selects Microsoft FAST for Advanced E-Discovery Document Search. E-discovery is a hot market in legal, life sciences and financial verticals but firms like ISYS, Recommind, Temis, and ZyLab are already doing well in that arena. It will take a lot of effort to displace those leaders, even if Microsoft is the contender. Enterprises are looking for point solutions to business problems, not just large vendors with a boatload of poorly differentiated products. There is plenty of opportunity for specialized vendors without going toe-to-toe with the big folks.