When even the commercial vendors are using it, has open source search won?

There have been some interesting announcements recently which may point to an increasing realisation amongst commercial search firms that an open source model is an essential advantage in today’s search market. Coveo have announced that their enterprise search engine can run on an Elasticsearch core, an interesting move for a previously decidedly closed source company. BA Insight, who have previously provided extensions and enhancements for Microsoft’s decidedly closed-source Sharepoint search facility, have been offering Elasticsearch as a core search engine for quite a while. It is also an open secret that some other commercial search firms (such as Attivio) use Apache Lucene as a core technology.

The commercial search firms will have noticed that Lucidworks (who employ a large proportion of Lucene/Solr committers) have announced Lucidworks Fusion 4, which can be used for site and enterprise search. Elastic, the company behind Elasticsearch, recently acquired Swiftype and have repositioned it as a packaged site search engine (with an enterprise search version in beta and rumoured to appear later this year). Both Lucidworks and Elastic are thus attempting to capture a larger segment of the search market, using their dominance and expertise in the open source world. Note however that all these products are ‘open core’ rather than ‘open source’ (despite Elastic’s attempts to pretend otherwise) – which is not very different from Coveo or BA Insight’s approach – so the distance between the traditonally separate ‘open source’ and ‘closed source’ search vendors is now closing.

The question for any search vendor should be whether there is any point developing and maintaining a closed source search engine core, when Lucene derivatives such as Solr and Elasticsearch are so well established. The race between closed and open source is perhaps over.

Here at Flax we’ve been building open source search engines since 2001 and we’re independent of any vendor – so if you need help with your search project, do let us know.

Note: Enterprise Search is usually defined as a search engine working behind a corporate firewall, indexing different content sources such as flat files, databases and intranets. Site Search is usually visible to non-employees and only indexes websites. However, when site search includes an intranet the boundary becomes a little fuzzy – is this lightweight enterprise search? In most cases this doesn’t hugely matter – the underlying search engine core will be the same, it’s simply a difference in where source data comes from and how it is presented to users. However, these two options are often presented as different products by vendors.

UPDATE: A few days after I posted this blog, commercial vendor Attivio released SUIT, an open source user interface library that can run on their own engine, Elasticsearch or Solr. It seems the trend continues.

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