IBM and Yahoo have enhanced their joint enterprise search product, a free competitor to Google's Mini device.

The vendors are releasing an upgrade of their IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition with a search interface that, IBM ad Yahoo claim, is easier to customise, so that companies can adapt its look-and-feel to match their brand and website layout.

The product, a server-side application launched in December 2006, now also has improved metadata support, which makes its indexing capabilities more granular and generates more relevant search results, said Aaron Brown, IBM's program director of content discovery and search.

IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition helps iCentera Corp. both in its internal operations and hosted software products, said Craig Nelson, iCentera's president and chief executive officer.

Internally, the product has made it easier and faster for the company's sales and marketing staffers to find information in brochures, data sheets and proposals for clients, he said. "The search engine lets them sift through hundreds of documents very quickly and find the two or thee documents that are meaningful," Nelson said.

Externally, iCentera has integrated the product's search capabilities with the hosted intranets and extranets it builds for its clients, adding a valuable feature to its products, said Nelson, whose company is based in Minneapolis and has about 50 staffers.

One feature that didn't make it to this upgrade was a tighter integration of the Yahoo search engine with the product, something IBM and Yahoo tested but decided to hold off on including because not many customers have requested it, Brown said.

To interact with the product, end users have a browser-based interface with the familiar look and feel of the Yahoo search engine, or, as an alternative, the product's search box can be added to a web page. Custom interfaces can also be built.

IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition can index up to 500,000 documents from over 200 file types, like Adobe Systems' PDF and Microsoft's Word and Excel files.

The Google Mini, on the other hand, starts at US$1,995 for 50,000 documents and tops out at 300,000 documents in its $8,995 edition. The Mini, however, is a hardware device with search software in it, while the IBM product doesn't include hardware.

Both the Mini and the IBM-Yahoo product are considered low-end enterprise search wares, lacking the power and sophistication of other products from IBM, Google and companies like Fast Search & Transfer and Autonomy.

IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition is the entry-level product in IBM's enterprise search line, which includes the more sophisticated and fee-based OmniFind Enterprise Edition, whose functionality can be extended with OmniFind Discovery Edition. Meanwhile, Google has the Search Appliance, which has more capabilities than the Mini.

A future version of the OmniFind Enterprise Edition will allow for a smoother transition for those companies that opt to upgrade to it from the OmniFind Yahoo Edition, Brown said. Currently, moving from one to the other requires re-crawling the documents to rebuild the index.