Google has improved the security and search features of its Mini search device, a hardware box with Google software aimed at small and medium-sized companies and at departments within large organizations.
In its 2.2 version, slated for release on Tuesday, the Mini will gain some features already present in the company's Search Appliance, a similar product that is more sophisticated and powerful and designed for large organizations, said Kevin Gough, a Google enterprise product manager.
Industry observers have been waiting for Google to give the Mini a boost, as a reaction to a serious challenger the product got in December when IBM and Yahoo launched a free, entry-level, enterprise search application. That competing product, called IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, can index up to 500,000 documents. The Mini starts at US$1,995 for 50,000 documents and tops out at 300,000 documents in its US$8,995 edition.
In terms of security, the Mini will for the first time recognize access settings for users and documents that an administrator has pre-established in Windows' NTLM (NT LAN Manager) authentication protocol and Active Directory. The Mini has also gained the ability to apply access settings and authentication requirements defined by administrators in LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) directories and in HTTP Basic schemes for online transactions.
Meanwhile, a major search improvement is the OneBox feature, which lets the engine identify the intent of certain queries and compile and present a digest of data at the top of the search results list that may answer the user's questions, saving them from having to click on search results. OneBox can be configured to compile human resources data, sales transaction details and employee contact and calendar information, for example.
The upgraded Mini now integrates with Google's hosted Analytics service that tracks and logs Web site usage. In particular, the Mini integration will enhance and enrich the data Analytics gathers related to users' search activities.
In a similar fashion, the Mini has been linked with Google's Sitemaps service, which lets webmasters put a file on their sites that tells Google's automated Web crawler the proper way to index their sites' Web pages. The Mini 2.2 gives administrators the option of creating or improving their Web sites' sitemaps.
Finally, the Mini has gained the ability to limit search queries based on ranges of numbers, such as dates or prices.
While the security features are a must-have in corporate search tools, and thus a catch-up move for the Mini, the integration with Google Analytics gives it an edge over competing products, said Guy Creese, an analyst with Burton Group.
Companies of all sizes are eager to improve their understanding of what their clients do on their Web sites, and gaining a better insight into clients' search activities is extremely valuable, he said. The language in search queries provides more concrete clues about a client's intentions and desires than the recording of the client's mouse clicks on the site, Creese said.