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Lucene Support: Commercialization Meets Open Source

With us today is Eric Gries, CEO of Lucid Imagination, a recently launched company that focuses on commercial support of Apache Lucene/Solr open source technology.

Q: Lucid Imagination was recently launched. What is the company all about?

A: Yes, Lucid Imagination officially launched in January of this year. We are the first commercial company exclusively dedicated to the Apache Lucene and Apache Solr open source search technologies. We provide commercial-grade support, training, high-level consulting, and value-added software extensions for Lucene and Solr software.

What's interesting is that our founding team consists of several key contributors and committers to the Lucene and Solr projects, as well as experts in enterprise search application development. These include Erik Hatcher, Grant Ingersoll, Yonik Seeley, Mark Miller, Sami Sarrinas well as Marc Krellenstein, an industry veteran in the Enterprise Search. We're also lucky to have several technical and business experts from the open source community as advisors. Some of these folks include Doug Cutting (Yahoo), the creator of Lucene and Hadoop; Chris Hostetter (CNET); Mark Brewer (SpringSource); and Matt Asay (Alfresco Software).

Q: Do you see the company as adopting the role as the prime moving force for Lucene?

A: That's certainly our goal. Our mission at Lucid Imagination is to provide value-added resources both for the Lucene developer community as well as enterprises using or evaluating Lucene/Solr for their search solutions. To help accomplish this, the Lucid Imagination website gives Lucene application developers a central resource for information they need. For example, visitors can access our knowledgebase, technical articles, podcasts, how-to videos, and best practices for free, just by visiting our site.

We also strongly believe in the ability to recognize and showcase innovative solutions developed using Lucene and Solr. We have set up a wiki on the Lucid Imagination site through which we encourage developers to showcase their own work with Lucene and Solr.

Additionally, we provide training, certification and education for Lucene/Solr application developers, which further helps those individuals become more proficient and productive in their roles as Lucene/Solr developers.

All in all, it's our hope that this wealth of resources and information will help increase the penetration and success of Lucene/Solr in enterprises, thereby growing the community and giving each and every community member more opportunities.

Q: Are open source initiatives like Lucene having luck getting into the enterprise?

A: Absolutely. In fact, Lucene is one of the top-15 open source projects as measured by the open source census. If that's not telling enough of its rise in the enterprise search space, consider this – it's our estimate that there are over 4,000 implementations based on Lucene. This includes some of the most widely-known brand name companies like Orbitz, MySpace, LinkedIn, Netflix, AOL, Ticketmaster, Apple, Zappos and TomTom. The performance and maturity of the technology, combined with its significant cost-savings is making open source projects like Lucene and Solr viable search options in the enterprise.

Q: What's the biggest recent news regarding search technology, and how does this affect Lucene and Lucid Imagination?

A: Lucid Imagination participates in two high-growth segments of the market -- Enterprise Search and Open Source software. Interestingly, in spite of the soft economy, the Search and Discovery software market was estimated to be over $2.0 billion, in 2008, with CAGR of 17% by IDC. One of the biggest trends in the search space is the emergence of open source technologies in major enterprise settings. This is interesting for two reasons. In the past, developers maintaining Lucene or Solr deployments or developing new applications, were limited to community mailing lists and forums for technical support and resources for help. In addition, many companies require reliable, commercial support to be provided for any technology they use in mission-critical applications, especially open source technology. Without the support of a commercial entity, enterprises assumed more risk if their Lucene developers depart for other companies, leaving them with limited expertise needed to continue their open source search projects.

Now, with commercial-grade support from Lucid Imagination, Lucene and Solr have become a much more attractive enterprise search option. Developers are able to maintain their sense of independence by way of developing code, applications and projects unique to their needs without the overhead of a commercial company, while organizations have the confidence that their search applications are backed by support from a venture-funded commercial company with some of the industry's leading search experts. Additionally, due to current economic constraints, the cost to deploy an open source search technology is appealing as well.

This is in addition to the strength and reliability of Lucene and Solr technology -- which includes its flexibility, out-of-the-box relevancy ranking, query performance and scalability. All in all, we like to think that the climate and appetite for great search technology is right, which can only propel the success of Lucene and Solr forward from here.

Q: Do commercial ventures in support of open source fundamentally change the nature of open source?

A: It comes down to the motivation of the commercial venture. Speaking for us, it does not benefit us in any way to disrupt the Lucene community or to change the way developers can acquire the software.

Lucene has achieved its incredible popularity and level of adoption because it is open source and because of the strengths of the technology. Both Lucene and Solr are quite robust and ready for the enterprise in a lot of ways, but need that extra push and support a commercial company can bring to bear not only to make the software easier to deploy, but also to enrich the community. However, like many other open source technologies, Lucene/Solr inherit some of the challenges common to open source software such as lack of guaranteed support or bug fixes, no formal quality control (the users are the testers), lack of formal support for upgrades, access to organized training and education for search application developers. Providing all of this to the community is the value we bring.

Q: If readers want to find more about Lucene and Lucid Imagination, where can they go?

A: The Lucid Imagination website is a great place to start.

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