IBM and Yahoo have released a free search app for smaller businesses aimed at underming Google's control of the market.

The server-side application is a free download aimed at companies that haven't tried out enterprise search due to cost and complexity concerns. Called IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, it has been designed to be simple to install and use, and can index up to 500,000 documents from over 200 file types, including Adobe's pdf and Microsoft.'s Word and Excel.

With that indexing capacity, IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition poses a significant threat the Google Mini, one analyst said. The Mini is a hardware device loaded with Google search software that starts at $1,995 for 50,000 documents and tops out at 300,000 documents in its $8,995 edition. "Google will have to react in some way to this product, to differentiate the Mini from a free competitor with more indexing capacity," said Forrester Research Matt Brown.

IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition isn't comparable to more powerful mid-tier products like the Google Search Appliance, nor to high-end systems from companies like Fast Search & Transfer ASA and Autonomy, Brown said. These mid-tier and high-end products have significantly more features, like the ability to index data from many more sources, including business applications.

But it is precisely what Eric Brierley had been looking for. As chief technology officer of Decision Critical, he has researched tools like the Google Mini because he wanted to do a full-text indexing of the education and training materials the company stores in its databases and serves up to its health care clients.

However, he hadn't found an option that fitted his budget, was simple to use and could handle the task until he beta-tested the IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition earlier this month. "We're very pleased with it not only because it's free, but also because the integration process [with our Web application] was painless and the performance was exceptional," said Brierley.

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End users interact with the IBM/Yahoo product through a browser interface that has the look and feel of the Yahoo search engine, which is familiar to many people. Two other user interface options exist. The product's search box can be embedded in an existing Web page, and the IT department can build its own custom interface.

The product now becomes the entry-level option in IBM's enterprise search line, which features the more sophisticated and fee-based OmniFind Enterprise Edition, whose functionality can be extended with OmniFind Discovery Edition.

The upgrade path to the Enterprise Edition is far from seamless right now, requiring a re-crawling of the documents to rebuild the index, but IBM plans to make the process smoother in the future.

IBM also offers customers the option of purchasing guaranteed phone technical support for $2,000 per server per year.