People often say you can't beat free, and IBM and Yahoo are hoping that will hold true in search. The two companies have released a potentially market-shaking product called IBM Omnifind Yahoo Edition that provides basic search functions for Intranets and Web sites, relying on Yahoo for Internet search.With a search maximum of 500,000 documents, the free product tops Google's Mini appliance, a software-hardware combination with a starting price of $1,995 for 50,000 documents. The appliance maxes out at $8,995 for 300,000 documents. The IBM-Yahoo offering is software only, available for download through Yahoo.
While its unlikely IBM would acknowledge it, there's little doubt that Big Blue has its sights on Google in launching this giveaway. Google has been tearing up the low-end of the market, selling $50 million to $70 million worth of search appliances this year, Forrester Research says. Google claims to have 6,000 appliance customers and says its adding 1,000 a month. Sales for its enterprise division doubled this year.
In the meantime, IBM has yet to make a dent against Google, so it's logical that it would make a dramatic move like offering a product for free to entice small and medium-sized businesses or departments within an enterprise. Yahoo is key to the deal because it can provide what has made Google's products so popular, a user interface that's familiar to just about anyone on the Web.
Microsoft has also made a play for the SMB market with its recently announced Office SharePoint Server for Search. SAP and Oracle are playing in the mid-market, so competition overall is sure to heat up.
Which takes us back to the impact of free. With IBM offering at no charge software that covers the low-end of the market, while also offering some enticing midrange features, the search market in general could find the bottom dropping out around price. Other vendors are sure to follow IBM's lead and offer entry-level products for free, while mid- and enterprise-level vendors will have to start offering more features for less. And with Google, and now Yahoo, working the interfaces, search may actually get easier to use within businesses.
So put it all together, and it looks like 2007 will be a great time to be a buyer.
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