Once filled largely with small, specialized vendors, the market for desktop search in the enterprise is gaining renewed attention as major Web search players take note of corporate users.
Google, the worlds most recognized search engine, and Microsoft Corp.s MSN search service both are targeting enterprises in their desktop search plans. Google released its corporate version in May, while MSN is promising a beta test this year.
But while the desktop entrance of well-known Web search engines is likely to gain attention, specialized vendors such as ISYS Search Software Inc. and X1 Technologies Inc. also are hoping to capture renewed interest from enterprises.
At a minimum, all the major Web search services, including Yahoo Inc. and Ask Jeeves Inc., have launched a desktop search application for individual users in the past year.
“Thats driving the recognition of the market, and thats good news for the small vendors that have been there a long time,” said Susan Feldman, a research vice president at IDC, of the Web search engines. “The bad news is that they dont have the mindshare, but they do have enterprise products that have history.”
Denver-based ISYS already has been selling to corporate users for years, and last month it launched an upgrade to its desktop-search application called ISYS:Desktop 7. The update provides the ability to create categories of results on the fly and to cluster results. It also doubles index capacity to 8 billion documents.
Meanwhile, X1 Technologies has begun tailoring its desktop-search tool for individuals to business users. It dove into the small- and medium-sized business user market last month with the launch of X1 Team Edition, which added deployment and administrator management features.
Next, X1 plans to release an enterprise edition by the end of June, said Jeff Kupietzky, vice president of marketing at Pasadena, Calif.-based X1. The release, currently being beta tested, adds a server for creating a central index and provides customization and deployment options.
It also will provide connectors into other enterprise applications to make files searchable. X1 plans to launch four to five connectors and also offer an SDK (software development kit) so enterprises can integrate with other applications, Kupietzky said.
“We want to be able to interact with those applications so people can leverage the investments they have in these enterprise applications,” he said.
For enterprises, the choice between using the emerging corporate desktop search tools from the Web search engines or the specialized tools from smaller vendors often will come down to considerations of security and customization, Feldman said.
On the security front, enterprises should consider the fundamental business model differences between a Web search provider and a software company, she said. Web search providers generally earn revenue through the advertising that appears alongside search results, while software companies are focused on license revenue.
“Security is a question when things are going outside the firewall, and tying into a Web search engine could raise a red flag,” Feldman said. “Google has been careful to calm down those concerns, but nevertheless theres a real balancing act.
“The business model and the need for security may be at war with each other,” she said.
Google, for example, did add additional security features in its enterprise version of desktop search, including support for encryption of data files.
But for enterprises like law firm Perkins Coie LLP, security concerns remain with desktop search tools from Web search providers like Google because of the potential for search queries to travel outside its walls, said attorney John Driggers, who oversees the firms knowledge management efforts.
“For a firm like us, where client information is critical, any search tool that is not wholly in house and anything that reports back on information thats inside the firewall is not a tool we could consider because of confidentiality requirements,” Driggers said.
Why Enterprises Customize
About six years ago, Seattle-based Perkins Coie deployed desktop search software from ISYS. Part of the firms attraction to a specialized tool was the ability to customize the engine, Driggers said.
For example, the firm uses a document numbering system that makes extensive use of embedded punctuation in the numbering scheme. Typical Web search engines treat such punctuation as a space rather than recognizing the number scheme, Driggers said.
“Theres no way that you can customize those sorts of things with these generically delivered desktop search products,” Driggers said.
A report released in April from the University of Wisconsin E-Business Consortium ranked desktop search tools. (Download the PDF here.) The top three overall were from Copernic Technologies Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Wizetech Software. But when ranked based on enterprise readiness, Copernic, ISYS and Yahoo topped the list. For enterprises, Copernics desktop search technology is part of an offering from Coveo Solutions Inc. X1 is the technology behind Yahoos desktop search application.
Wild cards in desktop search are the major desktop operating systems. Apple Computer Inc. already has built an advanced desktop search called Spotlight into its newest Mac OS X release.
Microsoft also has promised search improvements for Windows, though it remains unclear how extensive a role desktop search will play in Longhorn.
Desktop search also could become subsumed in larger enterprise search efforts, Feldman said. Already, search vendors such as Autonomy Corp. have added desktop components onto their broader offerings.
“My own feeling is that standalone desktop search in the next 10 years is going to become more a part of an enterprise work environment,” Feldman said.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.