Yahoo deal puts IBM, Microsoft in enterprise search pickle

IBM's OmniFind enterprise search product uses Yahoo search technology, but it could end up using Bing instead due to the Microsoft-Yahoo search agreement

Yahoo's decision to use Microsoft's Bing search engine could cause a "strange bedfellows" competitive conflict between Microsoft and IBM in the enterprise search market.

Yahoo and IBM have offered since late 2006 a free, entry-level enterprise search product called IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, for which Yahoo provides a user interface component as well as Web search. That IBM-Yahoo product competes directly against the also-free Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express.

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Thus, if Bing ends up playing the part of Yahoo search in IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, Microsoft would be in a way competing against itself, while IBM would be using a rival's technology in its own product.

Although both are free, IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition and Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express are strategically important because they are the entry-level options in each company's respective families of enterprise search wares.

As such, the products act as bait to reel in potential customers who later often upgrade to the vendors' more sophisticated and powerful fee-based models, which also compete directly against each other.

"Microsoft and IBM are absolutely squarely positioned to compete with each other in enterprise search," Whit Andrews, a Gartner analyst, said.

One thing that is clear is that Yahoo intends to shut off its search engines, so unless an exception is made, IBM will have to find a replacement for Yahoo search in IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition.

Whether that replacement ends up being Bing or another commercial search engine, there is bound to be some impact from the transition on corporate users and on independent developer partners who have built tools and extensions for the IBM-Yahoo product.

IBM has previously described IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition as being "fully integrated with Yahoo Search," giving users "one-click access" to query a variety of Yahoo engines for general Web results, images, video clips, local listings and news articles.

However, an IBM spokeswoman softened that claim on Tuesday, saying via e-mail that the enterprise search technology in IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition is based on IBM technology and on extensions to the Lucene open-source text search engine library, not on Yahoo technology.

Gartner's Andrews believes that the integration between the IBM and Yahoo technology isn't very broad nor tight. It's also his understanding that Lucene is at the search core of IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, while Yahoo contributed more peripherally with the user interface and Web search. Thus, the technological impact of swapping out Yahoo search for Bing or another Web search engine may not be very disruptive, he said.

"However, it's possible that the deeper relationship between Yahoo and Microsoft will discomfit IBM," Andrews said. "If that's the case, I would assume they’d look to Yahoo to strip off the brand and Yahoo would probably not quarrel about it."

"The majority of the benefit to IBM was the ability to leverage Yahoo's formidable brand power in search. The benefit to Yahoo was never clear to me," Andrews added.

A Yahoo spokeswoman declined to say what effect the search deal with Microsoft will have on IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, offering only this brief comment via e-mail: "During the regulatory review period and integration, we will continue to operate our business as usual, which includes continued support of partnerships we have in place." Yahoo and Microsoft will begin to implement their deal, announced last week, once it receives clearance from government regulators.

The IBM spokeswoman said via e-mail that "there is no impact to IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition based on the Microsoft/Yahoo deal, and the IBM offering will continue to deliver no-charge, entry-level enterprise search linked with Yahoo's web search capabilities in an easy-to-use, highly consumable package." She didn't immediately respond when asked via e-mail whether this will hold true once Yahoo starts relying on Bing.

Microsoft didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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