Early users upbeat about free Yahoo-IBM enterprise search app

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Early users of a new search application developed by IBM Corp. and Yahoo Inc. say the downloadable software has allowed them to dig deeper into their databases and carry out smarter queries.

Dubbed IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, the application is capable of indexing up to 500,000 documents from more than 200 file types, including Microsoft Office files, Web files, and PDF documents. What’s more it’s available for free.

The application can be downloaded here. At least one Canadian analyst says OminFind is aimed at a space currently occupied by search engine Google Inc.

A basic Google Mini, a device loaded with the Mountain View, Calif-based firm’s search software, sells for US$1,995 and can index 50,000 documents. Its high-end version handles 300,000 documents and is priced at US$8,995.

“This is clearly a shot across Google’s bow,” said David Senf, manager, Canadian application development and infrastructure software, with IDC Canada Ltd., in Toronto. Senf, however, said OmniFind cannot be compared to the higher-end systems that offer more features and the ability to index data from a far greater spread of sources such as business applications.

However, he said IBM is enticing companies with the free software hoping they will then opt for Big Blue’s line of enterprise offerings.

Timing is also perfect, as recent IDC surveys reveal that employee time spent on document searches is a growing concern for companies.

“Canadian workers spend an average of four hours per week conducting computer searches. That’s about 10 per cent of a 40-hour work week,” said Senf.

One of the software’s early users, Nstein Technologies Inc. a Montreal-based developer of text mining software, found that OmniFind allowed them to search through various file types residing in their database.

For most in-house searches Nstein employees usually go through their documents using Outlook’s basic search tool, said Michel Lemay, the company’s vice-president for marketing.

“This method tended to overlook some data such as PDF files. But with OmniFind’s ability to index more than 200 file types, we can now go through everything we have.”

Nstein, a Big Blue partner, downloaded OmniFind less than two months ago, after being requested by IBM to try out the software.

Lemay also liked the software’s capability to quickly extend the search from private network into the public Internet space through a single interface.

Ease of installation and accurate filtering features are what attracted Decision Critical Inc. a Web-based learning management firm based in Austin, Texas that serves hospitals and medical schools.

Brierley said the initial contact with IBM representatives, validation of Decision Critical’s needs and customization of OmniFind to suit their company took less than five hours.

“In three to five clicks, OmniFind was downloaded on to our server and already indexing our data,” said Eric Brierley, chief technology officer, Decision Critical.

Decision Critical, which provides study materials to over 400 clients and their 300,000 end users, ran Microsoft SQL queries against its database.

Brierley found this inadequate because the method only allowed searches for words contained in a document’s title and didn’t filter query results effectively.

What the company needed was a search tool that could dig deeper into a document’s body to bring up other related materials, but also filter the results so that users would only have access to authorized information.

“We serve a wide variety of companies, and not all of them have subscribed to the same material. We want to make sure people get access only to what they paid for,” Brierley said.

IBM offers an optional support package that costs US$1,999 per server, per month, but Brierley thinks the user’s manual accompanying the software will be adequate for normal operation.

The application is also very easy for users to master because it has a look and feel of the Yahoo search engine which most people are used to, said Aaron Brown, manager, search content discovery at IBM.

He said users have two interface options. The product can be embedded in an existing Web page or an IT administrator can build a custom interface via an application programming interface (API).

Although OmniFind can be downloaded on to desktop or laptop computers, IBM suggests the software is loaded onto a server for production work.

Hardware requirements for supporting up to 20,000 documents are a 1.5 GHz processor with 1 GB of memory and 80 GB of disk space.

For handling up to 500,000 documents, OmniFind will need, two dual core processors, 2 GB of RAM and 250 GB of disk space.

The software supports Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 and Mozilla Firefox browsers and can operate with Windows XP, Windows 2003 Server SPI, Suse Linux Enterprise 10 and Red Hat Enterprise operating systems.

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