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AltaVista debuts Discovery search app

The firm rolls out AltaVista Discovery, an application that lets users search the Web, email, and documents using a customizable toolbar on the browser.

Compaq is continuing where Digital Equipment left off with the AltaVista search site, beefing it up to compete in the cutthroat portal market.

AltaVista today launched AltaVista Discovery, an application that allows users to search the Web, email, and other document and file types using a customizable toolbar that attaches to the browser. As previously reported, the free add-on also highlights key search words within a Web page, summarizes the content on a Web page, and helps users find similar sites, among other features.

The move is part of what appears to be an ongoing strategy by the computer maker to pump up AltaVista to be a player in the portal space, alongside heavyweights such as Yahoo, Excite, and Lycos. Compaq inherited AltaVista when it acquired Digital Equipment earlier this year.

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Along with the rollout of AltaVista Discovery, the firm settled a lawsuit for the "Altavista.com" domain name, for which it reportedly paid the domain owner $3.35 million. AltaVista is partnering with Bill Gates's Corbis to offer to searches of nearly 500,000 images that can be sent as online greeting cards. A children's area also is in the works for AltaVista, which rolled out new content channels in June.

AltaVista spokesman Don Bradley declined to comment about Compaq's plans for AltaVista's future. Some had speculated before the Compaq's acquisition of Digital that Digital was beefing it up so Compaq could sell it, given the high valuation of portal sites at the moment. Others have questioned whether Compaq plans to spin off AltaVista, which also could explain the upgrades and added features.

AltaVista Discovery is available as a free download from the search site. It utilizes application distribution and management technology from push firm Marimba, summarization technology from Inxight Software, Inso's filtering technology, and Teragram's language processing technology.

Using a pull-down menu, users can search the Web, email, or documents. The menu also can be further customized, AltaVista said.

Other portal players also have upgraded their search services recently. In May, Yahoo inked a deal to add Inktomi's search technology to its service, Lycos updated the search function on its Tripod community site, and Excite also announced improvements to its search offerings.

Netscape Communications also added a so-called Smart Browsing feature to the latest version of its Communicator Internet suite. Smart Browsing comprises three functions: What's Related, which allows users on a given Web page to view related sites automatically via a pull-down menu; Internet Keywords, which lets users type a keyword directly into the site address field on the browser; and NetWatch, a set of tools that allows teachers, librarians, network administrators, and others to filter out certain types of content.