The state of open source search

Gnu logoOpen Source Software (OSS) and free software has been an alternative to commercial, licensed software for decades. Most known and successful are perhaps projects like GNU/Linux (licensed under the GNU General Public License, GPL),, Apache web server and MySQL. They have all managed to produce excellent, high-quality, stable software with an impressive wide-spread use. Other well known projects that are also Open Source are Java programming language, Norwegian TrollTech’s (now Nokia) Qt, Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird, eZ Publish, and the list goes on.

For Search, there are a few players picking up speed that you should be aware of:

OSS players a threat?

You probably know the search library Lucene from Apache Foundation. It provides a low-level library for simple indexing needs in your application. Then you have Apache Nutch, which adds a crawler, document converters, search UI etc to Lucene to make it an intranet/internet search engine. A pretty new project is Apache Solr, which is focusing more on the enterprise search side, allowing large-scale search indexes and faceted search. See links at end of article for more examples.

Now, what about enterprise search? Will commercial players like Google, Fast Search & Transfer (now Microsoft), Autonomy, and IBM face any competition by the Open Source products? The short answer is no. Not for the top-end market where search really is your business.

However, the products mentioned above can prove to be very attractive alternatives for the lowe-end market, for companies that need a simple quick search feature for their application, or a site search for their web page(s), a simple product search for their product catalogue or similar. I believe that already now many of those needs can be fulfilled by Open Source engines, and in the future we’ll also see more companies dedicated to installing and supporting such installations, getting their revenues from consulting, not licenses.

Note that we have not mentioned Free “down-scaled” versions of commercial products, such as the IBM Omnifind Yahoo! edition. This could be an excellent alternative for some needs, but it is not open source, so it is not mentioned here.

So keep your eyes wide open! Ask us if you need advice on how to handle your search needs.


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